Nurses—Making a Difference in Global Health

Nurse Story: Promote gender equality and empower women

Fulfilling the Dream of Water for our Homeland 

This is a story of Bea and Ben Osome — a nurse and a physiotherapist who met at their training hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.  Together, they immigrated to Canada in 1971, raising their family of one girl and two boys, in Ottawa, Ontario. But, they never lost their roots, returning as often as they could, since then, to visit and live with their extended families in the Kisumu area of Kenya, near Lake Victoria. 

Each time they returned to Africa, Bea returned to her deepest concern — water for her mother — Respah Liko — and her mother's village.  In all of those years since Bea came to Canada, Respah continued to walk — as many African women and children still do — 2-3 kilometers to the closest river, every day, to access water for drinking, cooking and washing.  And this was not just a gentle walk.  On the way to the river,  the way was downhill. Hence, the return — with a pot of water in hand — was uphill and often slippery with mud. Over time, the river became polluted too. The ever-poorer water quality decreased her ability to continue to fetch it.    

As a nurse, Bea was keenly aware of how critical clean water was to the health of her mother and to her entire village. For many years, Bea and Ben both wondered how best to help Bea's aging mother, to raise funds to dig her a well — “fulfilling a dream of water for our homeland.”  But it wasn't that simple.  Bea and Ben had their own family to raise and they, themselves, worked hard — in demanding careers in Canadian healthcare.  As well, their daughter Charity has endured cancer and cancer treatment for many years, requiring much of Bea's own extra energy and support. Plus, in planning to dig a well in Africa, the whole community's needs — and the surrounding environment — must be considered.  

Digging a well in Africa requires more than digging one well in one back yard. 

I first met Bea and Ben in 2005, on the introduction from their son Brodie.  By then, Bea had tried many approaches to discovering funding. She went to leading NGOs focused on African wells, to church groups and even to CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency.  She received lots of useful, important advice but no monies.  So I suggested that Bea join Rotary International because I, myself, was an RI member, in Prescott, Ontario. (Brodie is also a Rotarian.) I knew that Rotary Clubs work, independently, with each other, on many kinds of small and large development projects, many of these in digging wells.  For instance, i suggested, an Ottawa Rotary Club might work with a Rotary Club in Kisumu, to together fund and dig near her mother's home, in Africa.  So she joined the West Ottawa Club and began this exact plan. But, both the West Ottawa and Kisumu Clubs were already very busy with many many other projects that will take years to complete, ahead of Bea's request, in a schedule for support.  

By now, Respah was in her eighties. Her health was deteriorating!  Time was critical!  

So Bea continued to look for other sources and so did I.  By 2008, with funding support from several of Bea's church friends, and two of my friends from California, Dr. Rebecca Wright-Nixon and Randy Nixon — who also met Bea and Ben at my wedding in Prescott in 2006 —  Bea was able to raise the funds and address the surrounding concerns in Respah's village of Kiritu, Kenya.  In particular, 3,000 people lived in Kiritu.  Respah's own yard would be inundated with people if her well was the only one.  So, Bea and Ben finally raised more monies and  — as they found reliable people to do the work for Respah's well — they also commissioned a second well, near the village center, for more people to have access. 

The Dream of a Young Canadian Unfulfilled 

Meanwhile, I was collaborating with my colleagues at the Prescott Rotary Club to begin our first major international project.  We were sure we wanted to do something to help with water needs in Africa.  We feel so fortunate to have so much water, right on our doorstep, flowing through the St Lawrence Seaway, where Prescott is located. We wanted to 'give back' to a thirsty world, but we weren't sure what this help would be. We just knew that we would need to raise the monies first.  We also needed to find a good reliable African partner — preferably also with Rotary experience there — as we knew we could not supervise the local work, so far away, from Canada. 

One of our Prescott friends, Rosemary Spencer, was looking for a special and enduring way to remember her granddaughter, Sarah, who had suddenly died, in 2004, at age 21. Sarah's own young dream — to become a teacher had been unfulfilled.  In Prescott, a memorial space had already been set aside — called Sarah Spencer Park —  but this Park needed some upgrades for a childrens' playground. AND, Rosemary knew that Sarah would not have wanted to forget African children in these efforts.  

Rosemary is also a phenomenal quilter! So, together with our Rotary companions, we created a plan to raffle one of Rosemary's beautiful quilts — crafted especially for this project in a beautiful bright blue 'water' motif — to raise the needed monies.  In 2008 — just as Bea and Ben were completing their long-awaited wells in Respah's village — the Prescott Rotary Club raised enough funds with the quilt raffle to improve Sarah Spencer's Park AND to set aside some monies to help with a small well project in Africa.   

An African Tradition Revealed

Just about this time, Bea and Ben came to me with a new dilemma.  With Bea's own home family and village so well supplied with two new wells, people in Ben's village were also requesting help. As Bea explained, it is not enough to support your own family. In Africa, tradition calls for bringing an equal share to one's husband's family.  In Ben's own Kenya village of Mumboha — where 50,000 people live — their Primary School was still needing to complete a well they had already hand-dug, 75 feet down.  In that village — as in Respah's Kiritu — the children have, throughout history, had to interrupt their studies and play to walk 3 kilometers one way — many children several times a day  — to supply water for themselves and their thirsty families. 

The Mumboha Primary School's hand-dug well needed a pump and a water storage tank. plus a sustainable way to keep all of the pump in good repair, with so much use.  Ben had helped with the plan and the resources so far. But — needing more funding for completion and supplies — he asked Bea to help his village too, in the African tradition.  

When they revealed this 'tradition' to me, I remembered my Rotary friends in Prescott, who had raised their monies but were still looking for a trusted collaborator on a small African water project. They wanted to achieve something simpler than most larger Rotary water projects require — with much less cost, planning, scheduling and travel. 

This became a perfect fit!!!

I introduced Bea and Ben to the Prescott Rotary Club — and especially to Rosemary Spencer — in February 2009. They presented their request to fund a pump and a water tank — at the Mumboha Primary School in Kenya — so that the water would be so much easier to access and to store. And this request was granted!  Armed with Prescott's agreement to complete this well — and with the exact amount he needed — Ben paid his own way to Kenya and commissioned the work and supplies from trusted subcontractors. He was also pleased to fulfill Rosemary's desire to share Sara's dream with the Kenyan children.  By late 2009, the work was finished and in, early 2010, Ben was able to travel to Africa again, to officially photograph and commemorate the Mumboha Primary School Well project — in gratitude to Canada, the Prescott Rotary Club and to Sara Spencer's dream.  

Prescott is Now 'On the Map' in Africa!

On April 12, 2010, Bea, Ben and I joined my husband Wayne Kines and our fellow Prescott Rotarians in our own official Canadian celebration of fulfilling this thirsty dream.  Ben told us that this well taps such a good aquapher — 75 feet down — that the children — and indeed the whole village of 50,000 — can easily access this well for all their clean water needs.  And, perhaps as important, the school's Headmaster, Moses Kefa, has established a small village access fee, of about 10-20 cents per tap, to create a sustainable fund to keep the pump in good working order. He also shared a photo illustrating that precautions had been taken to build a latrine block sited far enough away from the well to keep the water safe.  Ben shared that his African friends and family are so pleased that 'Prescott is now 'on the map in Kenya!'  When anyone arrives at the Mumboha Primary School, they see the prominent Prescott Rotary Club sign.  When asked, 'where is Prescott?' the children all know, as they have all been taught where to find Prescott on the map of Canada — as they learn more about the world beyond their village.

Rosemary Spencer shared her joy in hearing the laughter of children playing at Sarah Spencer Park and is so grateful that Sarah's dream is remembered — also coming true for some children in Africa. 

Bea also reported that her own mother, Respah Liko, had died in her late 80s, on Christmas Day, 2009. But, she had died grateful, knowing that her own well — and the others Bea and Ben had established — would supply clean and easily-accessible water for many thirsty children for a long time to come. 

For me — every day — I, too, hold a dream to discover ways to support the health needs in Africa and many developing countries around the world.  The needs seem infinite — almost beyond measure — so vast in scope and so much more than any one person might feel they can do.  

Yet, I have just learned, again, from my own fulfilling experience with Bea, Ben and Rosemary —and a group of people, about 20 in Africa and about 20 in Prescott, Ontario — that even small projects continue to make a big difference, over a long time, in the lives of so many.  

This gives me so much hope and helps me to carry on!!!!!  

Contact Information:

Deva-Marie Beck, PhD, RN
International Co-Director
Canadian Office
Nightingale Initiative for Global Health (NIGH)