By Celine Klosterman
BLOOMFIELD — Thanks in part to St. Mary Magdalen Parish, thousands of Nigerians will soon have a reliable, year-round supply of clean water.
The parish of about 45 families has donated $700 toward building a well in the village of Panya, a town of about 6,750 people in east-central Nigeria. Bloomfield-area Catholics are among members of several churches contributing to the effort, which was started by the Methodist-run Iowa Nigeria Partnership and is promoted by the Davis County Ministerial Association.
“The Gospel compels us to do works like this. And it’s important for Christians to work together,” said Sister Trudy Tanner, OP. She is vice president of the ecumenical ministerial association and pastoral associate at St. Mary Magdalen and St. Patrick Parish in Ottumwa.
Residents of Panya need an improvement over their existing 30-foot-deep well because it dries up from November to July, forcing them to walk hours to natural springs during the dry season. Water in the unenclosed well is also prone to bacteria that cause malaria and other diseases, Linda Rowe said. A member of Bloomfield United Methodist Church, she has made several mission trips to Nigeria. She spoke at St. Mary Magdalen on Feb. 13.
Funds raised will go toward the $5,000 cost of drilling an enclosed, pump-handle, 150-foot-deep well that allows access to water year-round. Rowe said the new well will mean girls can spend more time in school than on fetching water, and local residents will get sick less often from drinking contaminated water.
“It really affects the whole lifestyle of the village,” Rowe said.
Education in well maintenance plays a role. “We teach Nigerians to use it sanitarily. If you’re doing laundry, move away from the well so soap doesn’t seep back in. Keep animals away and children from playing on it. Keep the landscape such that water runs away from the well and surrounding ground doesn’t cave in,” Rowe said.
She and other members of the Iowa Nigeria Partnership establish a committee of villagers to ensure proper well use, make small repairs and establish an emergency fund to buy replacement parts such as a $10 valve. “We’re trying to help them help themselves.”
From what Rowe has seen, the Iowans have made a difference. She said that during a trip to Nigeria last year, residents smiled and nodded after being asked if their children’s health had improved since a new well was drilled there. The Iowa Nigeria Partnership has drilled 11 wells since Rowe got involved in 2007, and it aims to drill six to 10 more this year. She was scheduled to leave for Panya this week to oversee the drilling of two of those wells.
In an African country where about half the population is Muslim and 40 percent is Christian, “pastors tell us the well is the best evangelism — because we don’t put a sign on it saying, ‘Only Christians can use this well.’ It’s for everyone. When people ask, ‘How’d you get this well?’ they’ll hear the church did it.”
Over the past two decades, the Iowa Nigeria Partnership has also helped build schools, offer medical treatment and improve agricultural practices in Nigeria, as well as start an empowerment program for female entrepreneurs.
Such efforts “open your eyes to the fact that there are people who live with so little,” said Father Patrick Hilgendorf, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen. “There’s a great need over there. We live so well in the United States.”