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    Colorado Knights Provide Clean Water in Africa

    A fundraising project is helping to improve sanitary conditions in the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo

    By Andrew Fowler 7/12/2021
    Parishioners from St. Leo the Great collect water at the new well dug in Kishasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. The new well was dug through Council 9597’s “Building a Wellspring of Hope” project. Credit: Pacha Tudisa

    The 800 parishioners of St. Leo the Great in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, now have access to clean water and latrines thanks to the charitable efforts of a Knights of Columbus council halfway across the world.

    The “Building a Wellspring of Hope” project began after Father Henri Tshibambe — pastor at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Lakewood, Colo. — approached the Knights at his parish for assistance. The priest had recently reconnected with a friend from seminary, Father D’jim Lumu Mutombo, pastor at St. Leo the Great. During their conversation, Father D’jim described the unsanitary conditions of the parish and how he was ill-equipped to raise the necessary funds to provide clean water.

    “When Father Henri approached me and said there was a parish in the Congo with no water and no latrine facilities I was struck immediately with how much we take our amenities for granted,” said John Pickard, grand knight of Our Lady of Fatima Council 9597. “He asked for $5,000 and I thought, sure, no problem — we could help raise that.”

    Coincidentally, Richard Phillips, a member of the council, had prior experience with international engineering thanks to his work while as a project manager at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Phillips was selected to lead the initiative. He went to work, recruiting colleagues from NMSU and Congolese architect, Alex Mulemangabo, to help with the project. However, it soon dawned on the team that the task would be a larger undertaking than initially anticipated.

    “It was clear that $5,000 was not going to be enough to provide them with assistance for both the well and latrines,” Phillips said. “It's in a poor neighborhood. It’s land that's been poorly taken care of, through erosion and other things, and so, there was no money there to do this project.”

    The estimated cost for a well with a hand pump and latrines was $15,000, but the team wanted to also provide St. Leo the Great with a solar power system and a new gravity feed water pressure system to improve the sustainability of the parish’s sanitary conditions. The latter system would consist of an elevated water storage tank to push water through the pipes to the faucets. In total, the project would cost $20,000. To raise the necessary funds, the council established a GoFundMe webpage and led an awareness campaign at Our Lady of Fatima Church. After only 18 days, the donation total exceeded $25,000.

    “It's been really nice to see the response among the Knights and the parishioners,” Phillips said. “It's a good example of how we're all connected and all God's people. It’s exactly what Pope Francis is trying to teach us — that we're all brothers and sisters. It’s been a rewarding project that I'm glad to be part of it.”

    By late April 2021, Mulemangabo, with assistance from local contractors, began drilling the well and constructing the latrines that are now flowing and operational. A few weeks later, the solar system was installed. Father D’jim expressed that the people of St. Leo the Great Parish will “never cease to thank you for the glory of God on everything you do” in a message to the council.

    “It is true happiness to be able to serve their needs, to bring some comfort to their lives,” Pickard said. “I love Mother Teresa’s quote: ‘Faith in action is service, service in action is love.’ It is a true gift from God that we are able to share some love from so far away.”

    To learn more about the Knights of Columbus, click here.

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