One man’s summer vacation of a lifetime
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org May 19, 2012 5:08PM
Construction continures on the borehole in the village where Elgin Community College instructor Joseph Onesimus is from. | Photo courtesy Joseph Onesimus
Updated: July 1, 2012 12:06PM
ELGIN — Joseph Onesimus has paid a steep price to bring a clean water source to his home village in Mbooni, Kenya.
It has cost Onesimus money, for sure, to fly back and forth between the African country and his current home in Plato Center.
It also has cost him time, taking months off from his job as an adjunct instructor of business at Elgin Community College to oversee the work in Kenya. And it has cost him his marriage: He now is going through a divorce, he said, because his wife didn’t have the same vision and because he was out of the country three months at a time.
But by the end of the summer, he said, 5,000 villagers in Mbooni will have access to clean water.
And that means no one will have to pay the same price his sister Esther Mueni Mativo did in 2004: her life.
“It’s a sacrifice for me, but you know what the funny thing is? I’ve never lacked,” Onesimus said.
“We’re here a short time, and we have to leave a legacy. If that doesn’t bring people closer to God and solve their human problems, I think that’s missing the point. How much money do you really need?”
The community college instructor, who also imports and sells art and tea from Africa, will fly to Kenya Tuesday, May 29, and arrive in the country late Thursday night, an expensive, 18-hour trip he usually makes every other year, he said.
Onesimus was born in Kenya, the oldest of five children of parents who were missionaries in Somalia. It was tough growing us as a “missionary kid,” always moving from one place to another, leaving behind friends and changing schools, but it was “eye-opening,” he said.
And, he said, it meant growing up “in a family that always gives.”
The water-producing borehole was the vision of his father, the Rev. Onesimus Mativo, the instructor said.
Villagers would tap rainwater trapped in a pond a 20- or 30-minute walk away from Mbooni, he said. They then would carry that home in 20-gallon jugs and boil it before drinking it, he said.
Mativo had shared his vision for a clean water source in the community years ago with Homewood Evangelical Free Church in Moline, where his son had connections from his undergraduate and master’s studies at Trinity University in Deerfield. He shared that vision again with the church in 2004, after Esther Mueni Mativo died of meningitis, a water-borne illness, Onesimus said.
She left behind a 1-year-old son, Onesimus said.
“It was the first death that really hit me. I was in the U.S. then. I couldn’t afford to come home. I still grieve that,” he said.
But, he added, “God uses broken pieces to make a mosaic.”
Catching the vision
After his father died in 2008, Onesimus’ mother, Elizabeth Mativo, visited Homewood and shared the vision one more time — this time, with Velma Wilkerson’s women’s adult education class.
“Once we understood how difficult life is for women in Kenya and how orphan children are throwaway people there, your heart just has to go out to them,” Wilkerson said.
And so the women started raising money — so naïve, she said, they thought about $10,000 would cover the project. They sold concessions; held garage sales, a concert, a luncheon and a bike ride; and spoke to other churches and groups in the Quad Cities, she said.
To date, she said, they have raised about $60,000 for the Living Waters Borehole.
Onesimus, who took charge of the project under his mother’s mission organization for women and orphans Child Arise Kenya, knew nothing about creating a clean water source, he said. But after some research, he learned a borehole would last longer than a well — “100 years after I’m dead,” he said.
He also found a company that would dig a steel-lined borehole in his village for about $12,000.
So with the first $10,000 or so, Onesimus traveled to Kenya in April 2011 to oversee the digging of the borehole. It went 130 meters deep — about two football fields long — before hitting about 30 cubic feet of water underground, he said.
When it hit water, he said, the children from the village rushed into the flow. They never had seen clean, running water, he said.
“I look at myself, and I see I was one of those kids. God showed favor on my life,” he said.
Completing the project
The cost is mostly labor — everything is done by hand, he said. What he didn’t know was that it didn’t include a pump to control the flow of the water.
“During that time, I was praying a lot. I got grayer,” he said.
But Homewood came through with the money to complete the project, and this summer, Onesimus will finish the job. In the next three months, he’ll oversee the construction of a pump for the borehole and find someone locally to manage and maintain the water source, he said.
He said he and the church have agreed to sell the water to the villagers — 20 cents for 20 liters. That’s nothing, basically, he said, but it’s enough to give them ownership of the borehole, to keep up with its maintenance.
Wilkerson said the congregation at Homewood is “thrilled.”
“We just have so many blessings here. There’s not a lot we can do for them; but if we just can get them clean water, we felt like we were doing something to help them,” she said.
Next, he said, he’d like to dig another borehole in a community not far from his where, last time he was there, villagers were trying to build a dam to trap dirty, red-colored water. He cried when he saw it, he said.
He gives himself another 15 years in the U.S., maybe, he said. He’d like to teach at a seminary or become a teaching pastor at a church, he said. Ultimately, he’d like to return to Kenya, to start a school to find others to give the same opportunity to study in the U.S. he had, he said.
“I’m the only educated person in my community. I think it would be a waste of my life if there were no more Josephs. It’s my desire in life to raise two more Josephs,” Onesimus said.
“I like America, but I think I have more joy in working with the less fortunate and educating them in different ways of life.”