by Mark Armfield, RainCatcher Founder
Establishing RainCatcher was an extension of my lifelong mission. Even as a young boy growing up on Point Dume in Malibu, seeds were planted in me that grew into a strong desire to make a difference and be a good steward of the natural world.
During my childhood, Point Dume was pretty undeveloped and we basically had free roam of the bluffs, the beach, and all the land right there along the coast. I spent my days riding my horse, exploring, and surfing and was always very plugged in and aware of the environment and the abundant animal life at the edge of the Pacific.
My compassion for other living things was further fostered over years of watching my dad, a veterinarian, care for animals, both healthy and suffering, and being his unofficial assistant. When an animal needed help, my dad would bring me along. At his side, I witnessed a lot at a very young age that has stuck with me.
My dad also encouraged me to be respectful of nature and to honor it. And he taught me that when a living thing, animal or human, needs help, you only have a limited time to make a difference. You need to act. Your hesitation can cost lives.
He was tough and he didn’t sugarcoat his lessons. His efforts to teach me are vivid in my memory and set the stage for my whole life. Kids can really be influenced and set on the right path, so the youth are very much a focus of my life’s mission – both in bringing clean water to children and families and in leaving a legacy and passing the torch to the next generation.
Like many people, I experienced a stable childhood of relative abundance and had such reliable access to clean water that I never really gave it a second thought. We would turn on the tap, grab a glass, and fill it up. We never had to to think about where our next drink would come from or whether the water available was safe.
But my whole perspective changed when I contracted a waterborne illness as a young teen and became very ill. After falling ill from contaminated water in Mexico, I was hospitalized and sick for months. The memory of that harrowing time has never left me.
As an adult, I began to travel the world and encountered sick children in country after country. We saw kids suffering from diseases caused by dirty drinking water in India, Thailand, and China. In each country, we had the same takeaway: these were child-killing diseases that could be avoided!
Even on our flight home from India, I realized I would never be the same. I’d seen so much suffering and I decided I would find a real solution, for everyone.
After those global experiences, I couldn’t forget that a child dies every 20 seconds due to contaminated water. I also couldn’t forget that I knew it didn’t have to be that way.
With my company, Armfield Design & Construction, I had spent a decade establishing my expertise in environmental building. In fact, my company pulled the very first permit for rainwater harvesting in Malibu. Soon, we were regularly installing rainwater-harvesting systems on luxury homes in drought-prone Southern California.
My clients were aware that so much water was being wasted, and they had the resources and luxury of being able to catch the rain for things like outdoor showers, irrigation, and gardening. We were pleased to do that for them and make a difference in our own backyard.
My good friend and like-minded design collaborator Jack Rose had also been focused on catching the rain in California and had decided to support people abroad. Soon he was traveling to Kenya to deliver water solutions to kids.
Together we turned to our mindful and environmentally conscious clients for help funding more projects in Africa. Those first steps of converting the generous intentions of the people we knew in California into clean water for students halfway around the world blossomed into an even bigger vision.
Soon, through a combination of self-funding and donations from Malibu folks eager to save lives, RainCatcher was officially born and Jack was traveling back to Kenya to put those heartfelt gifts to good use.
From the same Point Dume office where we were imagining and designing beautiful, environmentally responsible Malibu homes, we spearheaded several rainwater-harvesting projects for schools in East Africa.
In 2008, we were introduced to Father Kizito, which began our growth into Uganda. Later, other partnerships led to even more clean water provided in both Uganda and Kenya.
After another year of an informal and extracurricular partnership focused simply on doing good and providing a method for our clients and neighbors to do good, as well, I registered RainCatcher as a formal nonprofit, dedicated to healing communities by providing clean water in the developing world.
That year we also encountered a more modern, affordable, and sustainable filtration solution and were able to expand our plans. With these new filters by Sawyer, based on the technology used for dialysis in kidney patients, we were able to deploy Jack and others beyond just the larger rainwater-harvesting projects.
With point-of-use filtration, we were able to visit a village, show community leaders how these new filters worked, and in five minutes make an immediate change in the lives of the people there. These filters could take the dirtiest water that families had gathered from the ditches, streams, and ponds and remove all the bacteria and worm cysts that led to most waterborne diseases.
This affordable, portable, long-lasting option instantly increased our reach and made it possible to get clean water to more people, while we traveled and installed the larger systems. (And, even water from rainwater-harvesting tanks needs to be filtered before drinking, so this upgrade in filtration improved the deployment of our larger systems too.)
In January 2010, our activities responding to the devastating earthquake in Haiti meant seeing those filters and our team play a major role in the Western hemisphere. The increase in activity, with both our emergency-response efforts and the outpouring of gifts from local people eager to help the Haitians, meant a need to hire staff and instate a larger board of directors.
Throughout it all, we have been committed to being of service to those who go without. Catching the rain and using filters is the least expensive way to help people in areas with abundant rainfall who need clean water.
A lot has happened since we incorporated and established a board of directors made up of caring people committed to our mission. The RainCatcher board has grown, worked hard, raised money and awareness about the simple, affordable water solutions that save lives, and they have ushered the organization into the next chapter.
Since 2009, RainCatcher has expanded programs from that early handful of school project sites to a total of 36 Kenyan sites, 76 projects in Uganda, and, in recent years, we installed 12 rainwater-harvesting systems in the American Southwest on the Navajo Nation and on the Hopi Reservation.
Our sites serving the indigenous tribes of our country are particularly close to my heart. My parents taught me that Malibu belonged to the Chumash tribe and I absorbed that outlook and still feel it’s my duty to be a good steward of the Earth. That early exposure to Chumash teachings led to a lifelong feeling of closeness to the indigenous peoples of this country.
Our expansion, in the American Southwest and in East Africa, all came from a growing vision by me and the board and strong partnerships on the ground. Partnership in finding and implementing solutions for this devastating challenge is essential. We truly could not do what we do without partners, at home and abroad.
My job is to get into people’s hearts. A big part of it is education and speaking to individuals and groups. And my sole goal is to help them share our vision and how they can be part of the solution. Together, instead of helping 10 we can help 10 million!
Now in our second decade of existence, our mission continues to be refined and enriched. Through partnerships, we’re beginning to address more water-related initiatives, like WASH programs (water, sanitation, and hygiene) and other health- and water-connected projects. All of these needs are intertwined and as we work with established partners on the ground, it makes sense to embrace linked issues.
As an environmental builder for more than 35 years, I have a pretty strong point of view about what is possible. We are so fortunate in this country and people forget that our society’s situation is the result of teamwork and vision. Our forefathers built a solid infrastructure and, after World War II, “the Greatest Generation” made sure we had incredible highways and they expanded that infrastructure.
The people in the developing world go without a lot, as they wait for their governments to shift into the creation of solid infrastructure. We can help! We can support essential needs – like clean water – during their wait for good systems in these rural, underserved areas.
At RainCatcher, we aim to reframe the relationship with rain. We want to instill gratitude for storms and rainfall, to facilitate a shift from a “rain is bad, let’s get rid of it” attitude to “rain is a blessing, let’s catch it.” One day, it’s my hope, that more of us will collect it from roofs and put it to good use.
Water is the most precious resource. Water is life. Let’s catch the rain and save lives!
Mark Armfield is the Founder of RainCatcher. As a lifelong Malibu resident, he’s devoted the past 35 years to eco-friendly building and sustainable construction and planning. Mark served three terms as President of the Malibu Association of Contractors, during which they were honored with the prestigious Malibu Times Citizens of the Year Dolphin Award, and received Special Congressional Recognition. He has also served the community in the following capacities: Director, Malibu Chamber of Commerce; Chairman of Government Affairs, City of Malibu; Member, Malibu City Business Roundtable; Member, City of Malibu Sustainable Building Committee; environmental activist and contributor to The Local, and more.