What began as a work trip to the village of Musumba turned into an unforgettable experience for El Pasoans Jerald Hobson and Charles Horak.
The two, along with friends John Schwarting and Britt Quisenberry, spent a month in Democratic Republic of Congo continuing a humanitarian effort started four years ago.
“The purpose was to help renovate and resurrect a hospital that had been built many years earlier, but had come under disrepair,” Hobson
explains. “There’s a health issue: about one in five children die before age 5. We realized some of the illnesses people are experiencing could be greatly reduced if they had more clean water.”
For most villagers, the nearest water source is about six miles away, from a spring installed by USAID in the 1980s. However, it only supplies about one sixth of the amount of clean water needed by the village.
As Vice President of Horak Companies in El Paso – Horak’s company has built a number of water improvement projects for El Paso Water and other agencies over the years, and saw this as a way to share his knowledge with those in need.
By constructing some deep wells, Hobson hoped to increase Musumba’s clean water supply.
Since there’s no official water utility in the area, the he has spent several years visiting with principal stakeholders such as the provincial government, people from the village, the Methodist Church and Catholic Church to better understand the needs of the people. Horak began joining the group in 2015 working on the design and construction of some support structures and pump buildings.
To date, the group has already drilled two wells and constructed two storage tanks.
“When we first pumped out the water, you could see all the smiles on people’s faces,” Hobson adds. “They’d never seen a source of water that big and that clean. You could see them smiling from a football field away. That was pretty gratifying.”
Horak explains that although he expected that their work would make a difference in the lives of villagers, he was unaware of the lasting impact the locals would have on him.
“What happens along the way is you get to know people there, and you get into the rhythm of village life. It becomes a second home,” he says. “We have a connection that’s halfway around the world.”
The work is ongoing; the water system does not have a reliable source of electricity and the team has not completed interconnecting the piping.
They also want to train local residents to oversee and maintain the system themselves.
Horak and Hobson emphasize that while the work is exhausting and time-consuming, the experience of interacting with villagers is both eye-opening and rewarding.
“Each day I can close my eyes and remember what it looks like, what it smells like, what my friends are doing at various times of day,” Horak says. “The hospitality is immense among these people who have almost nothing, but are so full of spirit and joy.
“To know that we’re leaving a human legacy by helping them improve their own lives is gratifying. It’s through them that the success of this is going to pay off down the road.”
The two plan to return to the Congo for additional work next summer. To learn more about the project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Courtesy EPWater
Editor’s Note: El Paso Water works hard to provide clean, reliable water in our community – and we want to recognize El Pasoans who try to do the same in other places. To read our previous story, click HERE.