By Celine Klosterman
TIPTON – Jana Timmerman can’t imagine having to walk hours for water, then risking her health or life to drink from contaminated ponds or rivers — as people living in developing areas of the world often do.
“I know I don’t want to do that, so why watch our brothers and sisters do it?” the 15-year-old asked.
She and fellow parishioners at St. Mary’s in Tipton are working to make sure fewer people need to. For about three months, the Catholics have been raising funds to sponsor a water project through “charity: water,” an organization that brings clean, safe drinking water to developing nations.
Already the parishioners have exceeded their goal of raising $5,000 – the cost charity: water lists of building a village water project. They hope a June 6 concert featuring musicians from Tipton churches will help raise enough funds for a second water project, such as a well, spring protection system or biosand filter. Charity: water chooses what works best in a certain area, but says one project can serve an average of 250 people.
That’s good news to Catholics such as Jane Osborn, a catechist who teaches sixth- and seventh-graders at St. Mary’s. She was among parishioners who came up with the idea to raise funds for water as youths were looking for a Lenten project.
“I think the biggest inspiration was that God has given us so many resources, and we consider water to be a given in the USA,” she said. Yet in Africa, for example, women and children may walk for hours to the nearest water source. The long journey puts women at greater risk of sexual assault and leaves children with little time to attend school. Water they collect may be unprotected, contaminated from animal waste and likely to cause illnesses.
Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people each year than all forms of violence, including war, according to charity: water.
Leslie Klipsch, the daughter of St. Mary’s director of faith formation, Mary Barnum, saw firsthand what some Africans go through to get water. During trips she and her husband recently made to Ethiopia for adoption proceedings, “the most telling image for me was watching people fill jerry cans with water where, 5 feet away, people were doing laundry, and 5 feet from them, animals were drinking.”
Klipsch said most Ethiopians she spoke with knew their water sources weren’t ideal. But their community didn’t necessarily have the resources to drill a well, she said.
A member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, she said she’s among a group of about 30 people in the Muscatine and Davenport area who have raised $300,000 for charity: water. At St. Mary’s, she gave a presentation on research she’s done on the need for clean water.
Parishioner Dalton Harms, 16, said he was shocked to hear about the struggle some people face to meet that need. By fundraising for their benefit, “We are saving so many lives.”
Barnum said Tipton Catholics took inspiration for their effort, which they called “Spring of Spirit,” from Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink …”
They chose charity: water partly because, thanks to sponsors who cover the non-profit’s administrative costs, 100 percent of donations go to water projects. Depending on the project, communities that benefit agree to offer labor and materials, and usually contribute a nominal fee. And thanks to photos and to satellite images available through Google Maps, St. Mary parishioners will be able to see the results.
To raise funds, youths have held a Mardi Gras celebration, organized a “yard sale” in St. Mary’s parish hall, made and sold piñatas, and sold water and baked goods. Barnum said parishioners Jerry O’Rourke of O’Rourke Motors, Inc. in Tipton and Mark and Paul Stueland of Stueland Auto Center in Tipton offered corporate sponsorships. St. Mary’s Guild and Knights of Columbus council, along with many parishioners, donated enough to cover fundraising costs.
“God is working through these young people,” said Tim Ryan, a catechist of high school youths. “I am incredibly proud of those who took over this project and made it a success.”