Invitation to Africa

On May 10 I return to California to continue fundraising for the next trip to Africa. Many more schools need rain collection and storage systems. I plan to travel with Water For Children Africa on their next big adventure. My host in Nairobi, Florence Makau, and her building partner, are the ones continuing rainwater collection work in Kenya. I can raise funds in Europe and America and send to them and they can get the systems set up immediately at the remaining schools that still need water. We don’t have to wait another day. In Africa my work is to catch rain, in America it is to light fires, to inspire people to help secure reliable sources of clean drinking water, especially for the children who are more at risk to waterborne diseases.

I have never met a more happier or alive people. The ones who appear to have little have something we lack, a sparkle, a smile, an openness, an ease, a faith, a way, all connected to some deeper well. To be there, to live there, in friendship, is a blessing. I went to Africa thinking I had something they needed. I am returning with the knowledge that it is us who need Africa. My new pastime, therefore, is simply to encourage everyone I know and love, and the new friends I meet, to somehow get to Africa. Return to the garden, where we are not the gardner, but the flower. I will do what I can to help people have a safe and fulfilling journey to Africa, Africa will do the rest. Consider this the first installment of your invitation to Africa.

Simple pleasures

A 1999 World Bank – United Nations Development Program report called “Learning What Works” strongly criticized mega-projects and called for small technologies and community control of water.

People in the United States drink over 2.5 billion gallons of bottled water each year, an amount equal to a single days’ rainfall on the side of one mountain in Hawaii.

The resource and the need exist side by side. The RainCatcher is a small mountain placed in the path of the coming rainy season. Instead of one big mountain, the idea is to scatter thousands and thousands of little ones over an entire continent. All these small efforts add up to the same result: billions of gallons of life-giving water.

Like the yurt, like the circus tent, the RainCatcher is set up in a day by the people who will be harvesting the water. The cost is minimal. Materials needed: some rope, tarps and tent poles, and as many plastic water tanks as can be rounded up. For a while, more rain will fall than we will be able to catch, but our goal is to catch enough in each region so that everyone can enjoy, year round, the simple pleasure of a clean glass of water.

Most rainwater is wasted

The following story is from a recent article in the Sudan Tribune: Bankers, not tanks, will settle Nile row (highlighted passages by RainCatcher).

NAIROBI: It won’t be military muscle that settles a centuries-old struggle for access to the Nile. Instead, armies of engineers and financiers will slake the thirst of a war-ravaged region where generations of leaders have tended to arbitrate access to water at the point of a gun. That is the gentle vision of experts trying this week to defuse a potential source of 21st century conflict running up the spine of Africa from the Great Lakes to the Mediterranean.


Suffering deforestation, soil erosion and erratic rainfall, east African nations fiercely oppose a colonial-era pact giving effective control of the 6,741 km (4,189 mile)-long Nile and its African origins to Egyptian users far downstream. Egypt, in turn, has long challenged any initiative that would squeeze the flow of the Nile to its frontiers. In a turnaround, the governments of the 10 Nile Basin nations this week said a cooperative solution may be in sight.


Gathering with bankers and aid agencies at a conference in Nairobi, the 10 governments set aside old rivalries to explore cross-border ventures in energy and irrigation to improve collection of rainwater, most of which is currently wasted. “We accept that sustainable management and development of the Nile Basin can only be guaranteed through cooperation,” Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori told delegates. The idea is that the ventures, due to start in the next two years, will please politicians by bringing more power and irrigation to Africa’s farmers and businesses. Tapping presently unharvested rainwater, they should not hit Nile levels.

“The restructuring of cooperation across this basin has taken several years and will take several more years,” David Grey, senior water resources advisor at the World Bank said. The imperative meanwhile is to get results on the ground, put in development projects and show benefits to poor people.” Arab Power Egypt says it is ready to provide technical and financial help to impoverished upstream countries for investment in watershed management, irrigation and water storage systems…. To date, few outside a cabal of technicians and development agencies seem aware of the inventive solutions these experts are devising for the rapidly growing region of 300 million people….

Some governments now accept they need to do a better job of informing their people about the brightening outlook for water.

MEDIA ADVISORY — Water for Children Africa trip

Media Advisory

Contact: Sharon Ross

“Thank you for the two water tanks that you gave us. Last year people were suffering from typhoid because of bad water from rivers, but now we are drinking clean water because of you …” Kamuthanga Primary School, Machakos, Kenya 11/6/03

Students taking shoebox kits and quilts to African HIV moms; also building “RainCatchers” — a pilot born from the San Diego wildfires.

“The challenges facing children in Africa are devastating,” said San Diego World Affairs Council President Vickie Butcher, executive director of Water for Children Africa. “A growing number of children there have been orphaned by the AIDS pandemic or are themselves HIV positive; 30,000 die daily from lack of water and simple sanitation; and extended drought means millions more are starving.”

To help battle two major problems facing Africa — the water shortage and AIDS — Butcher is leading a team of San Diegans to Africa April 1–18. They will stay with families in South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana. This is Butcher’s seventh trip to provide interactions that promote cultural awareness and reduce cultural misunderstanding. “It’s important for people to experience worlds they’ve only heard about,” she said.

Team members include Encanto residents Janice Groves-Todd, Soroptimist South Bay President, and school counselor Keashonna Christopher; Rev. Alyce Smith-Cooper of Golden Hill; and University City resident Michael McCraw, President & CEO of the California Southern Small Business Loan Agency.

In addition, students will participate in the trip to help form a cultural bridge linking America’s youth with Africa’s youth, Butcher said. Students selected for the team are: Heather Elkins of La Mesa, Grossmont College Rotaract VP; Golden Hill residents Diona Johnson, Futures High School Interact President; and her brother James Cunningham, a San Diego High School freshman; La Jollan Carlos McCraw, a High Tech High School sophomore; and Kelly Ross of North Park, Grossmont College Rotaract President.

Butcher, a member of the California State Water Authority Board, also will be joined by self-described “rain farmer” Jack Rose in a first-ever RainCatcher ( project for Africa. In an ironic twist, the team learned about the water expert while he was in Julian to help a friend rebuild following the October wildfires.

“Every eight seconds someone dies of contaminated water — that’s five million deaths a year according to the World Health Organization,” Rose said. “A recent meeting of 10 countries in Africa identified improved collection of rainwater as an important effort to ease this terrible problem.” The team will be piloting Rose’s RainCatcher invention — a harvesting structure that can be set up in a day, at minimal cost, using materials at hand. “There are many ways to catch the rain. Any existing structure or freestanding tent can be converted to become a rainwater factory, ready to provide thousands of gallons of clean drinking water,” Rose said.

With generous support from across the nation, the team also will fund water tanks for schools in the Machakos region of Kenya. Each tank ensures a safe, sustainable water supply and improve health conditions for 300-500 children.

“In South Africa, we are participating in an international AIDS effort called Hope Through Knowledge,” Butcher added. “We are taking hundreds of shoeboxes filled with important supplies for HIV positive mothers learning how to care for themselves and their children.” The shoe boxes have been assembled by local churches including Bethel AME, Cathedral of St. Paul’s, Faith Chapel Church of God and Christ, Christian Fellowship, Women of Vision Outreach Ministry and Bethel Baptist Church. Kit contents include bacterial handwash, bandaids, gauze, hospital gloves, a pain reliever, lotion, shampoo, toothpaste & brushes, handwipes, baby quilt, clothing and toy. Beautiful handmade quilts for the babies were made by the Quilt Ministry at Bethel AME Church.

Supporters of the team’s efforts include: the El Cajon Breakfast Rotary Club; Water for Children Africa, Alliance for African Assistance; Rotary Club of Machakos, Kenya; Rotary Club of Johannesburg N Central, South Africa; Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa; Rand Afrikaans University, South Africa; El Cajon Valley School District and Grossmont Community College.

Additional support is still needed and will help extend the outreach efforts of the team. Water tanks, for instance, cost $500 each; 10 kits cost $50. Tax-deductible donations are welcome to Neighborhood Fundraising Network, Inc., 5941 Cozzens, San Diego, CA 92122.

For more information, call the “It is Written Community Bookstore” at 619-286-5952.