CHYULU, Kenya — Thousands of grateful Kenyans in the area of the Chyulu Kenya District now have safe, clean, accessible water. According to Church member David Maluti, deputy mayor of the Mtito Andei Division of the Makueni District, 500 hand-dug open wells were originally financed by local groups of families in the drought plagued area. These open wells have been a dependable source of water, but small animals and debris commonly fall in them, contaminating the water and causing water-borne diseases.

Even greater concern are the lives that have been lost as children and adults have fallen into the deep, open wells.

The 2005 LDS Charities project, with the last group of 82 wells completed Dec. 14, consisted of covering and installing hand pumps on 144 of the 500 wells. The beneficiaries supplied the brick, rock and sand. They also supplied the labor to construct the concrete slabs and animal troughs. LDS Charities supplied the cement, lumber, barbed wire for the fences and the hand pumps, and hired the technicians to provide technical instruction and additional labor. The government provided the chemicals to treat the water.

Makueni District is one of the driest areas in Kenya, without even a river. Chyulu District President Joshua Kioko said that the "members of the Church and others, to be self-reliant, need water to grow food. The cement covered boreholes are easy to maintain. These boreholes will help us become self-reliant."

Each well has a membership of about 30 families. The covered wells will benefit more than 25,000 people as well as their cattle.

After using the hand-pump covered well for two weeks, Rebecca Mbooa, assistant chairwoman of one of the wells's water committees, which oversees each well, reported that they can feel the difference in their health already. The water is clean. She also said that prior to covering the wells and installing the hand pumps, old people and children could not retrieve water. Now they can, which will provide time and work opportunities for more people.

Esther Mwikali Kiseli, 76, after pumping the water for the first time, said: "Very grateful, so happy for the pump. If anyone could have seen this before, they would have felt pity for our difficult source of water."

Jehosaphat Mathuua, a retired civil servant and chairman of one of the wells said, "This water is safe!" He described how, after walking miles for water before, 15 members gathered the money, and had a well dug by hand that was 40-60 feet deep. But children especially were susceptible to bilharzia (a water-borne illness) in the contaminated open well water.

Bernard Kioko Munywoki said that he was so happy and grateful about the covered well with the hand pump. When their hand-dug well was open, leaves would fall inside, the water would get smelly, and even their cattle would refuse it. Before, they could not send children to get water. Now they can because it is so easy to pump safe water. Shadrack Kivuva summed up their feelings about the hand pump and newly covered well: "So happy! Thank you! Thank you!"

Village Chief Benedict Wambua Mbwiko, chief of Nthongoni, where some of the open wells were refurbished, said that others are now encouraged to dig their wells, seeing this success. "I am willing to mobilize the community; this is a very accountable water program."