Needed: A Village Well for KAMPHENDA

Kamphenda is a small trading center for 200 villages, located near Rumphi and the Game Reserve in northern Malawi. A dilapidated and poorly furnished primary school and a few grocery kiosks are what qualify this place as a business hub. Kamphenda and all its surrounding villages are served by the Mwazisi congregation of the Rumphi Presbytery of the Synod of Livingstonia. The Synod’s Church and Society program has trained a number of volunteers to work in the villages on community development projects, and made an appeal to CitiHope to help dig wells if we could.

Typically, each of the 200 villages surrounding Kamphenda is comprised of 35 to 40 households. There are about 6 people in each household. This translates to about 240 people in a village. Therefore, the total population for Kamphenda area is estimated to be 48,000 people.

After preaching in two churches in Mzuzu on Sunday morning, March 10, 2007, I drove out with Jacob Nkambule, a representative of the Church and Society program division of the Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia, to the cluster of villages known as Kamphenda—about 2.5 hours south of Mzuzu. There, we met with 20 village chiefs and their ‘big chief’ in a school room to discuss their need for a community well.

Potable clean water is a very big challenge for the people of Kamphenda and many other remote places in northern Malawi. I knew from my conversations with Dr. Joseph Yu, director the Rainbow [AIDS] Clinic that 1 out of 5 kids die before age 5, largely due to diseases they get from unsanitary water conditions (dysentery, cholera, malaria, etc).

This remote village area is accessible only by a 4×4 vehicle or tractor able to sludge through the bumpy and muddy roads to where 48,000 people in 200 villages live. Currently, there are only 8 functional boreholes in the area. Eight village wells among 200 villages cannot possibly provide clean water for 48,000 people. The existing wells are located far and wide apart so that most villagers must walk more than 8 kilometers to the nearest water point. Because of this long distance, most families opt to drawing water from small streams which are muddy and contaminated.

I saw with my own eyes the distended stomachs of the kids bathing in and drinking stale, bacterial-infested dirty water. Since I had just preached from the Gospel of John on the fresh water of the Pool of Siloam that Jesus sent the blind man to for healing, I felt like God was trying to tell me something.

So, imagine me sitting there as a guest of honor (rumored to have access to resources) in a room full of village chiefs and community volunteers hopeful that something could be done. I listened to these 20 village chiefs speak about their village and about their need. I asked the obvious questions:

“If you had an international partner for your proposed village well project, what local resources would you have to offer?”

The answer they gave was a commitment to provide the labor pool, sand bricks and mortar, and the on-going maintenance.

“But what about tools and spare parts. How will you afford the maintenance?” I asked.

“We will have a common bucket of funds” they said.

“You represent over 20 villages. Where would the first well be dug?” I asked.

No one responded. Again, I asked:

“If only one borehole can be provided this year, where is in needed most?”

In the discussion that followed, all 20 chiefs were able to agree on the neediest village: it was the one where the people had to walk the furthest (over 8km) to get fresh water.

“We have identified the neediest place by consensus,” the Big Chief said.

Others added: “If only one borehole is to be dug, our consensus is based on distance. But actually, there are 5 critical areas in this catchment where conditions are so bad that something must be done. We need 5 boreholes to make fresh water available to all within walking distance.”

There was a compelling urgency in their voices, and I wanted to help. But instead of committing any resources of CitiHope, or making any promises I could not keep, I responded with a biblical reflection on the “living water” the Samaritan Woman drew from Jacob’s Well. I suggested that fresh clean water has healing properties, just as dirty water breeds disease, and why it is essential to drink only clean water for its medicinal purposes as well as to avoid disease. I told the story of the blind man Jesus sent to bathe in the Pool of Siloam which contained fresh water nearest the source, and how Jesus used this water, as well as the mud pack he made from his own saliva, to heal a man born blind (John 9).

They seemed to like my reflection, and it sparked a good discussion. We agreed to continue the discussion of the need for more wells, and to stay in touch. I added that CitiHope does what it does out of relationship, friendship and partnership, and not simply because there is a need. That we had been ministry partners with the Synod of Livingstonia since 2003, and that we had done many food and medical aid projects together. “So let us pray and see what God has in mind.”

I left the area, returned to Mzuzu and was late for dinner with the team. My afternoon excursion had lasted over six hours. As Fate or Providence would have it, I got sick that night, apparently from drinking local water (it’s hard to find bottled water with the seal intact.) I was not alone in my nocturnal misery. Four out of 10 of us got a bout. For me, it became an occasion of imaginary solidarity with those who must go daily without clean water.

“This is the kind of well we need,” said the Village Chief of Kamphenda (above)

One Village Well in the Kamphenda area, with a borehole of at least 50 meters in depth, will provide fresh water for up to 5,000. The total cost for the drilling of the borehole, plus the mechanical apparatus, the necessary repair and maintenance fund, sanitation instructions and training, and a simple irrigation system for a community garden (including initial seeds, tools and fertilizer) is $10,000. (That translates into just $2 per villager for access to fresh water that will save lives!)

CitiHope International has a provisional program budget of $40,000, and is seeking sponsors to fund the first four Village Well projects in remote rural areas of northern Malawi for FY 2007-08.

If interested in sponsoring a Village Well Community Development Project, please contact Dr. Michael J. Christensen, Malawi Mission Director, CitiHope International. 973-714-0023