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W. Richland engineer helps Ugandans cure water woes



W. Richland engineer helps Ugandans cure water woes

Corbun Babel, front, of West Richland, traveled to Uganda recently to teach residents like those behind him how to repair well pumps. This well served a school of more than 1,000 students and the families in the surrounding community. See story below.

WESTS RICHLAND — Corbun Babel just returned to West Richland from what he says was one of the best vacations he's ever had.
He was in Uganda teaching people there how to repair the hand pumps used for water wells, a skill that has the potential to save many lives.
"It was very rewarding and very needed," Babel said.
He took almost three weeks off from his engineering job for the Department of Energy at Hanford to volunteer with Lifewater International. The nonprofit Christian group is dedicated to providing clean drinking water in developing countries and worked in Uganda with a local group, Divine Waters.
Volunteering in a Third World country has been a lifelong dream, he said. He picked the project in Uganda because of his interest in Africa after he and his wife adopted two black children, who are now teenagers.
He didn't know what to expect in Lira, Uganda, but he found people who owned little but led happy lives. Their days are spent mostly outside and at night they sleep in mud huts with grass roofs. Goats, pigs, cows, turkeys and chickens roam the streets, he said.
Babel, who has a master's degree in hydrology, helped lead classes on how to repair hand pumps and then took his students to wells for hands-on instruction.
Previous humanitarian efforts have helped install numerous wells with hand pumps. But as the pumps have aged or broken -- some during wartime raids -- they are no longer usable.
Instead, people turn to potentially unsanitary rivers and streams for water.
Among the well pumps he helped his students repair were three at schools. One well was the water source for a school with more than 1,000 children, plus the families in the surrounding community.
For the past two years since the well stopped working, they walked 2.5 miles round trip to a stream used by livestock and contaminated with feces and parasites to collect water for all uses, including drinking, he said.
About 13 percent of children in Uganda die before they turn 5 and a primary cause is water-related illnesses, according to Lifewater International.
"When a community gains safe water together with improved sanitation and hygiene education, the incidence of life-threatening diarrheal diseases often goes down over 40 percent," said Dan Stevens, Lifewater executive director.
The Lifewater International team also provided tool kits to those Babel helped train.
"The men now are equipped with the knowledge and the tools to repair this and other hand pumps within their communities and also to teach others the trade of hand pump repair technician, making this a sustainable endeavor," Babel said.
He plans to talk to civic and church groups about his experience to encourage others to volunteer.



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