AKRON, Pa. - Water is not as far away as it once was for the people of Enkusero-Sampu, a community in the Ngong Hills of Kenya.
For years, obtaining water meant a 15-20 kilometer (about 9-13 mile) walk one way for most of the year. From August through October, the difficulty was even more pronounced.
"During the dry season, most people had to leave [the community] with their animals to find pasture," said Joseph Maseker, secretary of the community's dam committee.
In 2006, the locally run Maasai Integrated Development Initiatives (MIDI) met with community leaders to discuss the water situation. The community decided on an earthen dam initiative. Two community members donated land for the dam.
Though the community had the vision for and would do the work on the dam, faraway people of kindred spirit also played an important role. Through Foods Resource Bank (FRB), farmers and others in the U.S. contributed finances to the dam.
The FRB design works like this: a farmer, group of farmers, or suburban and urban gardeners (primarily but not solely in the U.S.) raise produce or livestock for one year. Proceeds from sales of these growing projects are sent to FRB.
Or, church or community members might auction quilts or hold garage sales, with money raised going to FRB. It is used for food security programs, such as enhancing water availability in Ekusero-Sampu, in 35 countries where FRB has partnerships.
Since 1999, MCC U.S. has been a member of FRB, self-described as "a Christian, non-governmental humanitarian organization committed to allowing people to know the dignity of feeding themselves through programs of sustainable agriculture."
Like all 15 member organizations, including many denominational organizations, MCC receives funding by way of an account in FRB. It operates akin to a bank savings account.
Donors can specify that the money be credited to MCC's account, to a specific FRB program or to FRB more generally. Since 2006, 45 growing projects have given more than $789,000 to MCC projects and to the MCC FRB account.
In addition, members can support each other's missions, creating a "multiplier effect," according to Dan Wiens, MCC's water and agriculture coordinator. MCC can support the work of other FRB members in places where MCC has no programming, if the program fits with MCC's overall mission. MCC also is the beneficiary of similar sharing of money for its programs from other FRB members.
Jim Rufenacht and his brother Cork raise cattle in Archbold, Ohio. Since the fall of 2003, they, along with a group of community farmers, have annually donated money from the sale of cattle to FRB. Ngong Hills sustainable water programming is one project they chose to support.
In January 2007, Jim Rufenacht was part of an FRB learning tour to Kenya. He saw firsthand how food security has been addressed in the Ngong Hills, visiting a dam similar to the one in Enkusero-Sampu.
"In the past, the people of the Ngong Hills went through times of drought and starvation. They said, 'We've got to do something different,'" Rufenacht recalls. "With the dam completed, the farmers are now selling produce, even in dry years. Peppers, tomatoes - they're able to make a living."
Rufenacht learned how the existence of the dam has impacted other aspects of society.
"A pastor told us that in the past, he would get up to preach on a Sunday morning, and no one was there," he said. "He could see people walking by, carrying water, doing what they needed for living. Now, they are able to come to church. Their kids can go to school, instead of working."
There are other outcomes that are important to MCC.
"Being part of FRB gives us an ecumenical partnership with denominational organizations... in the U.S. and overseas," said Darrin Yoder, MCC's Material Resources manager and FRB board member. "And it's another way that our constituents can be involved with MCC, in this case through agriculture and related programs in the world."
Rufenacht agrees. "For farmers, growing crops or raising cattle is what we're good at," he said. "FRB is letting us do our passion and do some good. People are generous. They just need to have an avenue."
Rufenacht's neighbors also are generous. According to Rufenacht, more money is raised in the Archbold area by contributions from people who hear about the growing project or who attend its annual "burger bash" fundraiser than by the sale of cattle. Members from a variety of denominations contribute time to organizing the fundraiser, as well as giving finances.
In Enkusero-Sampu, the first stage of the program, digging the dam, was finished in 2008. Since then, the community has been putting rocks around the edge of the dam to help reduce silt buildup, according to Maseker. Plans call for a drinking trough for animals, trees and a small vegetable garden near the dam.
"Because of the dam, the community has had water throughout the year and has not had to migrate away," said Maseker.
More information about MCC's partnership with Foods Resource Bank is available at food.mcc.org/frb/. Learn more about MCC's work on food issues at food.mcc.org/food/.