LAURINBURG — A village in central Africa now has clean water because of two cisterns purchased by the Laurinburg Rotary Club.
A year ago, the club began raising money to fund the project, which benefited a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In approximately six months the club raised enough money for the Roy McCook and Hal Jernigan Water Project to get started.
McCook and his son, Guy, visited Africa in April for three weeks and shared the progress of the project with members of the the Rotary Club last month. McCook said the project was one of the goals of club President Charles Buie since he took office a year ago.
“The club has been in total support of this. It is something that he’s (Buie) been working very hard on to help raise funds.”
Roy McCook, a missionary for 45 years, knows well the lifestyles of those living in the developing world. He supported the water project as a way to improve the lives of many with a single effort. Most of the Congo’s population lives a very rural lifestyle, in a network of dirt roads and paths without water or electricity.
“Which basically means they are getting their water out of the creek or river or some other place,” he said. “Water is an issue for just about everybody in the Congo.”
During their visit, the McCooks could not take for granted access to clean water, and carried a day’s supply of bottled water wherever they went. In one hotel, there was only electricity for four or five hours each day and there was never any running water while they were there.
“I took a lot of bird baths while we were over there,” said Guy McCook. “The biggest need is clean water. Everything else is nice to have. Without fresh water, there is no good health and children are getting sick.”
Guy McCook, a Scotland County commissioner, got involved with the project because of his father. Considering the failure of the Congolese government to provide a resource as basic as potable water, McCook surmised that the country’s impoverished, uneducated population lacks the resources to wield political power.
On the poorly-maintained Congolese roads, a 30 mile trip could take up to four hours — and that was in a four-wheel drive vehicle. McCook said often they would get stuck and everyone would have to get out of the vehicle and help push and lift the vehicle to continue the trip.
It was not unusual to see locals on foot travelling to a creek to get water to use in their homes. They would carry yellow metal containers, which hold 20 liters or about five gallons of water. Filled, the cans weighed almost 50 pounds.
Roy McCook said that the river, which served as the source of water for everything including baths, washing clothes and cooking, was not fit for human consumption.
“It is the absolutely the crudest, most filthy mess you could ever contact with,” he said.
The initial plan for the project was to build a well next to a church built by the missionary group, but the church was high on a hill and would cost twice the amount they planned.
They moved to lower ground and started digging the well, but because the rocks were so big, the group destroyed almost $1,000 worth of equipment.
“That’s when we decided that the well situation was not going to work and what we were going to try and do was a cistern system,” Roy McCook said.
Thanks to the Rotary Club’s efforts, there are now two cisterns on the river bank, holding about 40,000 liters. Water is taken out of the river and put in the first cistern along with chlorine. The water sits overnight and filters into the second cistern so that it is safe to use.
It was the most economical solution, costing about $10,000.
Roy McCook said the government has checked the water for purity and it is safe for residents.
There are still some minor things left to be done, including a fence around the cistern and a cement floor as well. There is an engineer that lives in the Congo that is doing the work for the group. The next step is to recruit people to maintain the cisterns.
“The Rotary Club has been extremely dedicated to helping and raising money and the people of Laurinburg have donated,” Roy McCook said. “It’s a big thing, but it is not easy.”
McCook plans to return to Africa in the near future to check on the project. Each time he visits the Congo, McCook is awestruck by the happiness and positive attitude of the people there.
“In spite of having no shoes on their feet, not much to eat, clothes dirty and torn, they are excited to be alive,” he said. “There is an inherent joy in people’s lives there. That says a lot in our own society. Some of our own population has forgotten how to be joyful.”
Reach Maria D. Grandy can be reached at 910-506-3171.