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On this date, February 12, 1999, at 5:35 PM MST, Meridian Magazine became a reality. So, it’s Happy 15 years to Meridian! We have worked with 969 authors in those 15 years and have published nearly 30,000 original articles, photo essays and cartoons. We’ve given you over 200,000 top news updates and helped to keep your finger on the pulse of the growing Church.
Watching and reporting on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is constantly fascinating and never ceases to delight us. When we launched, there were about 10,500,000 members of the Church in 25,600 congregations with 331 missions and 54 temples. Now there are over 15,000,000 members in 29,014 congregations with 405 missions and 141 operating temples.
We wondered what we could do to give you a brief feeling of celebration with us on this special day for we know your time is precious. We decided to bring you to our favorite story and greatest accomplishment of the year-one that came about because so many of you participated: The bringing of water to an arid and forgotten village called Mbele in Kenya.
This project was so successful, CHOICE Humanitarian named this as their “Project of the Year 2013.”
As you know, I am a photographer. When I go on these trips abroad I bring back thousands and thousands of images documenting our experiences. The one you’re looking at is of Maurine with our little “adopted” Kenyan daughter, Halima, soon after the water was turned on and was pumping out at a rate of 10,000 liters an hour! I wanted to show you all the dancing, the singing, the skits, the welcomes from various local leaders, the different tribes giving their gifts to us-but I decided to just focus on the water.
I could hardly contain my emotions as this water was gushing from 300 feet below the surface. The villagers were delighted. The last time they had seen water here was just less than 50 years ago and since most of them don’t live that long, this scene of fresh, flowing, sweet water was very unfamiliar and very exciting to them.
Ron McMillan, one of Meridian’s writers and a four-time New York Times best-selling author, wanted to show the natives how to really enjoy this fresh water. They looked on with delight and laughter.
Is this like drinking out of a fire hose? What an amazing sight this was for all of us in this arid region of Kenya! This borehole, though a huge gamble (and a $30,000 investment of donated funds) turned out to produce the best and the most water in the entire region. And all of this was on the property of this little Mbele Primary School property! What a direct blessing from the heavens. Ron had talked to the village earlier this day and told them that this water had always been there, right beneath their feet (100 meters below) and God knew this. Now, access was given to the water that will bless their village for generations to come. He said that God has knowledge that he wants to give to them if they will just reach up to access it. Everybody seemed to understand exactly what he said and were happy about that analogy.
Musa is the village leader and the caretaker of the nearby Mosque. He told me that the people of Mbele are extremely blessed. He said the water at his well, just 1.5 miles away was saline and could not be used for drinking water, only for washing. He told me he knew Allah was looking down upon them and had sent them these great blessings.
Musa tasted the fresh water and then took some and wiped his face with it. I could tell this was a sign of his gratitude by the way he stroked his forehead. He was truly grateful and set an example for the whole village. About three or four hundred villagers (including children) looked on.
All of us just were mesmerized by the scene of the water shooting out of the pipe with the noise of the little 4.5 horsepower pump blaring in the background. Musa told the people this was a new day for the village. The head of the school board, John, told me that this was a great blessing and that God is great. He said, “I cannot tell you what this means to us-it is like resurrection. We are all reborn this day.”
Our daughter Michaela could hardly contain her emotions as she stepped up to touch the pure, clean water. She had spearheaded the building of a school building (the expansion of their existing little school) the year before. While working here in 2012 she could see that the thing the village really needed was water. The women had to walk two miles round trip to bring in water, carrying forty pounds of water as many as five or six times a day to see to their families’ needs. Michaela came back to the States and could not get Mbele off her mind. “We have to find a way to bring them water. They have to have water,” she would say, day after day. Her vision brought this project about, and with the help of generous friends and Meridian readers, this thinking became a reality.
With Musa’s permission and encouragement, the children began to come to the water, one by one, seeing more water than they had ever seen in their lives. They were thrilled beyond description.
The smiles were so big-the happiness could not be contained. Can we even imagine what this moment was like for all these little ones who had never seen this much water at one time before?
In a very tender move, one boy came up with a plastic water bottle and started to fill it. Of course I thought he would get that water for himself. It would be the most natural thing in the world. There is nothing so familiar to these children as thirst and hunger. I was wrong.
The next thing I knew he was handing the water to another young boy.
And he in turn handed it to another. They were sharing! This is the way of these amazing people. Most of them only get one meal a day and that meager meal is made up of ugali (a type of corn meal) and perhaps a little rice (on a good day). Many struggle to earn enough to buy the food they need for that one meal for their family. We asked them, “What happens if you can’t earn the money you need one day to feed your family?” They quickly replied, “Then our neighbors help us. We help each other. We are always there for each other.” Here I saw this first hand.
Now many hands started reaching in from both sides of the flowing water. Everyone wanted to touch this miracle. It was a scene I shall never forget.
It wasn’t long until one child learned how to spray the water so it would go everywhere and get all over everyone. Giggles burst from every little nearby person and it was such a fun sight to behold. Children all over the world quickly learn how to play with and in water!
I noticed this one little shy boy who would not come any closer than about twenty-five feet away. I wanted to encourage him. He just kept staring at the water. It wasn’t until later when I zoomed in on the picture and found mud streaks all over his face. He had been playing in the newly formed pool of water and had his own sort of fun a distance away from the water pipe.
For those of you who so generously contributed to this project WE THANK YOU! I wish all of you could have been there and witnessed these scenes. This water is a gift beyond compare. You really made not just some difference; you have made all the difference in this little, almost-forgotten village of Mbele in rural Kenya. I hope these pictures communicate the thanks of the villagers to you in some small way.
I remember when my Utah-born-and-raised Grandfather came to visit us in Missouri and we took him to see our nearby wonder, Maramec Springs. We took him right to the spring, which bubbled up, on average, 100,000,000 gallons of water a day. He just stood there and stared at this enormous amount of water and finally he said (and he was 86), “Imagine a desert boy like me seeing a scene like this!” That is just how I felt as I witnessed this water bursting forth from the dry earth of Kenya.
The children were now gulping down the water as fast as they could. This was a great day in the lives of these little ones.
One boy put his head right into the water, a sensation he had never experienced in his whole life. This was truly a joyful moment for all of us.
The next day it was time to get to work clearing the large parcel of school property that will now be cultivated into a vegetable garden and some papaya and mango trees. None of this could be done without large amounts of water. The Maasai tribe lives nearby and their women were now getting a taste the fresh, clean, cool water. Their children also attend the Mbele Primary School so they also have great interest in this project.
Many of the women and the men came to the water source and carefully tasted the sweet water for themselves.
Some had water bottles and began to fill them for themselves. Others just wanted to touch the water and feel their beautiful, new source of life.
The people gathered for a picture around the borehole. The very small, local paper from a nearby town had sent a reporter to document this miracle in their region. At first they were a bit somber. I said to the interpreter, “Tell them to show me what they feel about this new source of water.”
They immediately broke into wild cries of delight and made sounds that you only hear in Africa-chants and yells with hands and shovels and machetes waving high in the air.
I think the women were the happiest because this source of water, so much closer to their homes, means less work and less toil to provide for their families. Many of them have already been talking about how to dig trenches and lay pipes (with meters) to get to their individual homes. Like Musa and John had told me earlier, “This water changes EVERYTHING for us. Everything.”
The showing of exuberance continued for quite some time and I just kept taking pictures. This was truly one of the most wonderful scenes I had ever witnessed in my life.
The experience that set this the deepest in my soul came in an unexpected way. We were writing the names of all the donors (many of YOU!) on the irrigation hose that would be buried in their garden and, some of which would be used to carry water to the children in the school. I was asking the children to hold up the hose around them and let me take a few pictures. They responded immediately and exuberantly.
Then one of the men we had become close to asked if he could borrow one of our permanent marking pens. I told him, “Of course you can.” I went back to helping the CHOICE volunteers write all the names on the hose. I then turned and looked behind me.
This man had taken a scrap piece of lumber from the school desks and written this statement: “Water is colourless gold.
” He captured the feeling of the whole village and he captured my heart.
Because we, the readers of Meridian, have been given so much, we feel that we too must give back.
Stay tuned as we introduce another humanitarian project and invite you to join with us.