The True Cost of Clean Water

My wife and I live in Tulsa, OK. We usually pay about $50 a month for water. For that fifty dollars we get to take showers or turn on the faucet to get some clean water to drink. Sometimes I water our little vegetable garden. We clean our clothes and make ice. Seems like a really good deal to me!

Our water bill went up a lot in one month, a ridiculous amount in fact. So, I did some checking and sure enough we had a water leak in the pipe that feeds our house. I poked around a bit in the yard and started digging. Our house is 80 years old, so I was not particularly surprised to find an old rusty steel pipe leaking water.

Only one thing to do: call a plumber. We decided to just replace the whole pipe instead of trying to patch it.

A few days later they replaced the pipe. It took a whole day, 4 people working at various times, 2 big expensive pieces of equipment (a mini trackhoe and directional boring machine), 3 shovels, a blowtorch, two pex expanders, a copper pipe cutter, a bucket, concrete, a masonry drill, 2 pex cutters, 3 vans, 2 trailers, and miscellaneous parts. Oh, and a city inspector. All that just to put 60 feet of pipe in the ground. My $50 a month water did not seem so cheap any more. This month it was costing me $2,150! I started wondering what it really cost for me to have clean water.

The people and equipment that it took to replace our pipe is only a tiny part of the huge system that provides clean water to our city of 400,000 people. Tulsa water treatment plants treat 100 millions gallons of water on an average day, with a capacity to treat 220 million gallons per day. The Yellow Pages lists 430 plumbing companies. The city water department changes out 16,000 water meters a year.

All this infrastructure is kind of expensive. In fiscal year 2014 the operating budget for providing water to the city was $112,040,000. There were $15,425,000 of water system capital projects like replacing or relocating water mains and facility improvements. These were not big projects.

Big water projects cost a lot of money. Chelssa, MI recently spent $4,600,000 to build a water treatment plant that processes .85 million gallons a day. It would take 117 such plants to supply Tulsa with water. That is $538,200,000 just to build the plants. Keep in mind that this is Tulsa, a small city. New York City is in the middle of a $6 billion water project which started in 1970 and will not be done until 2020. Twenty three people have died working on the project. The United States makes massive investments in water infrastructure, and arguably it is still not enough.

Our investment in water is more than a financial system. We have a culture that values and insists on clean water. When our pipe broke it did not even cross our mind to not fix it. We did not decide to just go get water from the neighbors. We could have saved some money by putting a faucet in the yard right next to the water meter and just carrying water into the house every now and then, but we did not consider that either. In fact in some cities a house will be condemned if it does not have running water. Across the country the vast majority of houses have full plumbing and running water, although not all. Many households without water are from low income or minority groups. I’m sure there are a few hippie off the grid types as well.

We don’t have a constitutional right to clean water in the United States, but we do have an expectation of access to clean water. Tulsa’s water system is run by the city. Some cities have water systems which have been privatized. However, outside of rural settings there are few municipalities that don’t have some provision for providing water to it’s residents. Imagine if one day Tulsa announced that the water system would be shut down, and no private industry would take over. Everybody was on their own to find water. In time the market would produce some solution, but imagine the impact. Tulsa would cease to exist in its current form, although the abandoned city could be used as a set for some awesome apocalyptic movies.

Over a hundred years of investment in infrastructure, culture, regulations, and expectations all come together so that I can pay $50 a month for all the clean water I can possible use, and when one old pipe broke I had massive resources to call on to fix it quickly. We didn’t even miss a shower.

There is some irony in the fact that I was having trouble getting clean water in my house. I work for Kibo Group, and a big part of what we do is help village communities in Uganda gain access to water. Some of our staff, Alex and Steven among others, work every day in Uganda to build and fix water infrastructure. I wondered what they would think of my situation. I even thought they might be a bit jealous of the resources I had to solve my own water access problem. But, it is a mistake to assume that there are no resources dedicated to water or no water infrastructure or investment in Uganda. A lot of money is invested in water projects. A public utility provides piped water to densely populated areas, and there is a network of hand pump mechanics who maintain wells. Kibo Group has a company we work almost exclusively with to drill boreholes, and district governments dig wells and invest in other infrastructure. The scale and effectiveness of the infrastructure is different, but it exists.

Not long ago the United States water infrastructure was more comparable to Uganda than what we have now. In 1924 more than 88 percent of the population in cities of over 100,000 disposed of their wastewater directly into waterways or into the ground without being treated. It was not until the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was passed in 1948 that wastewater treatment was the norm. It was only 150 years ago that major cities in the United States started building centralized water supplies. At that time water was not treated in any way. It just came from clean water sources (consider the above statement about sewer discharge when imagining the clean water sources). In 1849 John Snow proposed the idea that water contaminated by fecal matter could spread disease, his theory was rejected. It was another 50 years before the Germ Theory of Disease was finally applied to city water and treatment systems were developed. It has taken our culture of clean water centuries to develop, and we still have a long way to go. The same is true of Uganda, their culture of clean water is still developing, and they have a long way to go.

We hope that someday everyone in Uganda and the rest of Africa will have clean water. But don’t be deceived. Kibo Group will never dig that many wells. It is an impossible task for a western NGO to accomplish. But we do think that we can be part of building a culture that invests in long term water access. Every time we work in a village we help the community plan for future repairs. Our CLTS project teaches people about the exact same concepts that John Snow was figuring out back in the 1800’s that took 50 years to be accepted: open defecation contaminates water and spreads disease. We are working a village at a time to build a culture of clean water in Uganda. This is a long term project!

I do not feel guilty for the ease at which I have water, or how simple it was for me to get my pipe fixed compared to people in other parts of the world. Thankful, but not guilty. It is a clear picture of the hard work it takes to have a stable water infrastructure. This is work we need your help with. We need people willing to make patient long term investments of money in our work. We need people to learn as much as they can about water access issues and think deeply about them. And we need people to tell their friends, family, and colleagues about Kibo Group.

How will you be part of helping the world have long lasting access to clean water? One thing you can do is run in our 5K Run in March!


Harding University Homecoming

If you are at Harding University this weekend for homecoming we we would love to see you! Kibo Group is part of several events this year, so come find us at one of the places below.

Ross Cochran is donating the proceeds from his new book, Not Off Limits: Questions You Wish You Could Ask at Church, to Kibo Group. Stop by the bookstore Saturday, November 1 from 10:45am – 12pm for the Harding Authors Book Signing to pick up a signed copy.

Stop by Midnight Oil Coffeehouse to grab some coffee and learn about how Midnight Oil in Searcy is supporting Kibo’s work in Uganda.

Come to The Father’s Business: Our Call to Discipleship event. Men like Randy Harris, Dusty Rush, Ross Cochran, Andrew Baker, Monte Cox, Gary Selby, Jacob Robertson, Larry James and Landon Saunders will deliver several powerful messages based on Gospel of Luke.

Come find us in MCINTEER 150. This event is open to the public. Harding students may attend for college credit. For a full schedule download this PDF.

The Father’s Business: Our Call to Discipleship Schedule:

Thursday, Oct 30th: 6:00pm – 10:00pm – Andrew Baker, Ross Cochran, Gary Selby, Randy Harris

Friday, Oct 31st: 6:30pm – 10:30pm – Monte Cox, Landon Saunders, Randy Harris, Andrew Baker, Larry James, Gary Selby, Dusty Rush, Jacob Robertson

Saturday, Nov 1st: 8:30AM – 1:00PM – Larry James, Dusty Rush, Landon Saunders, Randy Harris

For a full schedule download this PDF.



Clean Water for Sifugwe Village

Recently Henry (the Kibo Group Country Director in Uganda) went with the Water Source staff to work on a well in Sifugwe Village. He had this reflection on how the day went:

On Monday we went to Sifugwe Village where Water Rehab staff Steve Kambale and Alex Walyomu have been working with the village to raise money to repair their borehole. The trip is about three hours from Jinja, I actually took a couple naps since I wasn’t driving! Steve did a very good job getting us there. We arrived around noon and found the Village Chairman, Local Council 1, and the other people waiting for us. We tested the well and the water was coming up but not very much, they had to pump really hard and fast!


Steve and Alex got the tools out and started opening the pump. People from three villages are getting the water from this borehole so it is well used! Someone usually comes in the morning an hour before people start arriving. They start pumping to get the well ready because it takes so long to get water to come all the way up.


We had a lot of help from the local hand pump mechanic and young men who live close by. It took nearly four hours to do the whole repair and people stuck around the whole time to help. They helped by keeping the pipes from falling down the borehole while Alex and Steve unscrewed each section.


The borehole had six pipes. After inspecting the pipes and the rods, Steve and Alex found out that three pipes had rusted threads causing leakage. They had to cut the threads off and make new ones. We brought four new rods as some of the old ones were rusted and were almost breaking off.

The village chairman had kept an extra pipe that was added so the pump can sit deeper in the water. It took a few hours to get threads done on the pipes, replace the rods, and test the system to make sure it wasn’t leaking.


After assembling the well, one of the man started to pump and the water started coming out immediately. It was dirty at first, but after  few minutes of pumping it came out clean. Everyone stated that the water never came out that fast, they were very happy, and thanked Kibo for partnering with them to have the borehole repaired. We challenged the community to keep contributing the money to their group. This money should be be put in the bank so that if the borehole needs work again in the future they will be prepared.


Our #icebucketchallenge response to @KiboMidnightOil

Midnight Oil Coffee House nominated us for the #icebucketchallenge. It took us a bit more than 24 hours but here is our response! (For the record I did not make the challenge, that came straight from our friends over at Midnight Oil! – Ben)

We think that the #icebucketchallenge is a fun way to raise money and awareness for a good cause, finding a cure for ALS or any other disease is a good thing. It also resulted in some pretty funny videos! We did not really think it was ok for us to dump water on the ground for our version. We work in a country where lots of people don’t have access to clean water, cold or otherwise. The day that we were challenged the municipal water supply in Jinja broke down, so people in town did not have water at all.

It is our true hope that everybody who participated in the #icebucketchallenge will take the next step in a generous life. Find a problem in your community and start working with people to solve it. Be hands on and get a little dirty. And find a big world wide issue that you can learn about and really understand. Advocate for that issue, give money, and educate those around you. So, have fun with the cold water, but don’t neglect a generous and thoughtful life the rest of the year.

The #icebucketchallenge has probably run its course. Most of the people who are going to do it have, and there are just a few stragglers like ourselves, left. But we do hope that it can have lasting impact in your life by causing you to think about how we give of our time, money, talents, and influence. There are a lot of people who have written and thought about the #icebucketchallenge. We encourage you to do a bit of reading and consider the implications of the #icebucketchallenge. Here are a few places to start:

A few articles to consider:

#IceBucket Evolution: A Challenge That’s Necessary—NOT Narcissistic

Why I’m not doing the #icebucketchallenge or donating for ALS

Finally, Matt Damon did an #icebucketchallenge that you have to respect:

Like Matt Damon mentioned, for clean water systems to work good sanitation systems must be in place also. He illustrated this nicely.

Clean Water and Dirty Containers

Recently I saw a picture somebody had posted on Instagram of a jerrycan being filled from a well. Here is the conversation below the picture:


The question “Only curious, doesn’t the container look dirty.” is an insightful one. It is true that the water going into the container must be clean. But, if the container is dirty the water becomes contaminated also. They both count equally. You cannot have clean water unless the water itself is clean and the container is clean. I talked a bit about why this is true in an earlier post called Keeping Water Clean if you are interested in details.


20120924-Trip to Jinja 2012-00436

When looking at pictures of jerrycans being filled to keep a few things in mind: These can are used a lot, multiple times a day. They are often strapped to bikes or stacked on trucks. Sometimes they are accidentally dropped. They are well used! Often the scratches on the outside are filled with dust which is really hard to scrub out. It would be great if every jerrycan was shinny and new, but it is not really practical. As long as the inside is washed out and the mouth is as clean as possible contamination will be kept to a minimum.

20120924-Trip to Jinja 2012-00422

Just keeping the jerrycans clean is only part of the whole task of clean water. For example if dishes are dried on the ground there is a high risk of them getting dirty. A drying rack helps eliminate this contamination. The drying rack below is a great example.

20120926-Trip to Jinja 2012-00158

Of course hand washing is also critical in keeping water clean. Dirty hands can contaminate water just as quickly as dirty containers or dishes. Having soap and water near latrines and kitchens make it easy for hands to be washed at the point of contamination.

For more info about how Kibo Group works for clean water that lasts check out the Water Source project and CLTS. More importantly keep asking good questions about the things you see us and other development organizations do.

20120926-Trip to Jinja 2012-00043


Values: Going Slow

Sometimes when faced with a problem or task there is a tendency to rush through it. We want to find the quickest way to get something done. Other times we may suffer from over analyzing. We spend so much time gathering information or trying to understand a situation that nothing ever changes. Kibo Group is not immune to these two extremes of rushing or over analyzing. If we can avoid the extremes and see value in going slow and working efficiently, great things happen.

So far in our series on things Kibo Group values we have talked about interfaith partners, celebration, and financial stewardship. This time we want to reflect a bit on going slow. It is easy to think that going slow is the same thing as inefficient, or even lazy. We want to avoid being lazy, but we don’t want to be so focused on doing a task efficiently that we find out our goal was wrong.

issue7_sidebar2Abraham Mulongo is in charge of the Mvule Project. This project uses planting trees and raising goats to help people learn to trust each other and work together. This means that conflict is an important part of the process. Conflict cannot be rushed. Abraham says that “going slow gives time for people to think, and it removes the blame.” If people just react they end up “saying you have done this so go away, or you have done that so I am done with you. But if we go slow when tackling problems it lets people understand first.” If somebody is kicked out of a group because of conflict then we have missed our goal. It may take weeks or even months, but if people take the time to understand each other and resolve their conflict they are taking steps toward a healthy community, which is much more important than how quickly trees are planted.

We want all of our projects to be effective and to use our resources efficiently. We also want our projects to truly help people by solving real underlying problems in ways that give people power and dignity. Perhaps Abraham puts it best: “If Jesus was here, what would we say or do? That takes some time to think about, how would Jesus respond to such situations. I want to respond as Jesus would.”

Taking our time to understand other people before responding to a situation or problem is good advice no matter what country you live in.

Project Update: Water Rehabilitation

issue7_sidebarThe Water Rehabilitation project works with government offices and communities to repair existing wells, and it is not hard to find work to do! In Busia District there are 36 boreholes that do not work. This is an overwhelming number. The local government has money and capacity to fix some, but not all, of the wells. Alex and Stephen recently had several meetings with the Water Engineer and other officials in the district to discuss how Kibo can help increase the number of working wells.

The meetings resulted in a partnership that lets Kibo Group focus on the lower cost repairs and the district focus on the more expensive repairs. Kibo will start on a list of 15 wells and the district will work in the remaining villages.

Water Rehabilitation staff will travel to each village and work with community leaders to come up with a plan for fixing the well. Typically this will mean establishing a Water User Committee to collect funds from people who use the well. These funds will be used to pay for a portion of the the repair.

As we work in these communities one of our goals will be to ensure the wells will not fall into disrepair again. Very few boreholes in this district were built with stainless steel pipes. Switching to stainless will be a key to long lasting water access. This will cost more, but is important for longevity. Along with the technical aspects we hope each village establishes a commitment to clean water. This usually means a trusted group of people who will take care of the well, collect money, and work with hand pump mechanics to repair worn parts.

Take Action

We added a section to our website called Take Action. We will keep this page updated with ways you can support Kibo Group. Check the page out on the website at Here are a few things you can do now:

Shop at

You can support Kibo by buying stuff. Just set up an Amazon Smile account using this link: The price you pay will not change, but Kibo will get a percentage of each purchase.

Listen to Music

Check out Four West on their Facbook page. If you buy a CD from them, Kibo gets a percentage of the sale price, and even better you get some great music.

Read a Book

Check out The Change Moment by Jerry Morgan. Jerry is a friend of Kibo and he donates a percentage of each book sale to Kibo. Find his blog at


If you would like to support Kibo financially just head over to

Tell A Friend

The more people that know about Kibo Group the better. Tell a friend about us!

Big Issues

Sometimes we notice an issue in the news or on social media that we think is interesting, or that people need to think about. We want to offer a few links that can give you a starting place for more research. Up this time: US Food Aid

The United States contributes more food to worldwide anti-hunger campaigns than any other country. There has been a rising debate the last several years about the efficiency of these programs and ways to reform them. If you are interested in how the United States distributes food around the world and possible reforms here are a few articles to check out:

We think there is real room to evaluate the effectiveness of any aid or development program. The debate over food aid reform is a great example of how the emotions, interests and motives around helping people are very complex for all of us.

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Kibo Group Reports for April and May

April is planting season so it was a particularly busy month for Mvule Project staff. They delivered seedlings to 24 villages for planting! Each of these communities are investing in their future and learning to work together to accomplish great things in their village. For a full report of Kibo Group activities in April just download the PDF for April.

During May the Water Rehabilitation staff solidified a partnership with Busia District. The district has 36 boreholes that need to be repaired, which is an overwhelming number. Kibo Group has agreed to work on a list of 15 specific boreholes so the district government can dedicate resources to the remaining 21. For details on Water Rehabilitation and other project activities in May download the PDF for May.

Sometimes the work we do in Uganda has results that are easy to see, like when a new well is drilled. But more often there are small conversations and events that lead to change. For example, recently Ida went to Kyani Village to resolve a conflict between two couples. A lady had left her current husband to go back to her first husband. This left her current husband bitter. They realized their mistakes and asked for forgiveness. It is hard to know what will happen in this situation, but it is a great example of the way Ida is part of people’s lives and is able to help people through hard situations. These small conversations add up, and over time there is change in a community.

Reflections from Rwanda

Recently students from the Pepperdine University East Africa Summer Program were in Jinja working with Kibo Group. As part of their time in East Africa they visited Rwanda along with Henry Oyier who is the Kibo Group Country Director in Uganda. Henry had a few reflections on his time in Rwanda we wanted to share. -Ben


Our week long trip to Rwanda ended on a very high note on safari and just a time to reflect a little bit on the week itself, and a trip as a whole for the students.

Today we have a “surprise” public holiday… Lenny and I didn’t know it was Martyrs’ Day, until last night, but I’m not complaining as I need to catch up with Kibo stuff from last week when I was in Rwanda.

While we honor the Martyrs who died in Uganda several years ago for the sake of Christ, we also had an opportunity last week to visit the Genocide Museum and two memorial sites (church buildings) in Kigali to see how evil our world can be sometime. I must say that the forgiveness that we saw on videos and from stories we heard about the victims were so powerful.

It was a very humbling experience for us, in fact I want to learn more about forgiveness, we watched a video of victims going back to the people who killed their family members, they listened to them narrate the whole ordeal, then they would later shake their hands and forgive them. If this is done genuinely, God is good, the power of forgiveness is unbelievable, I cannot even imagine being the victim.

While this is a very important part of the Rwandan history, I think the world can learn from it but not just stop at that.

We also saw a clean city, secure streets, high rise buildings, good infrastructure, street lights are actually working downtown (cars actually stop on the red light), Even boda boda drivers and the passenger put on helmets, Everyone talked of good security in their neighborhoods.

We attended a local church next to “Peace House” where 14 of us spent the nights, they sang hymns every evening that were very peaceful, we visited this place to find God’s peace at the end of the day of despair. There is still hope in the church in Rwanda. We also saw lots of big businesses premises in different corners of Kigali.

I think as much as Rwanda is being associated with the Genocide, the economic in the last 10 years is probably worth exploring in the future trips, I think most African countries if not most countries in the world can learn from Rwanda too in my opinion.

Pray for us here as we work sometimes with people who have experienced brokenness, that we can support one another, pray even for Kibo staff to be strong, God to guide us in everything we do.

We are thankful for you guys for all you do in the States side to tell stories of how our lives and the lives of people we work with are changing everyday, we are also thankful as you tirelessly give funds for Kibo to continue serving the people here in Uganda. We are blessed to be part of their stories.

Peace and Joy!

Have a good week, see some safari pictures below.








Why We Celebrate and Upcoming Events

We think that celebrations are really important, so many of our projects end with a celebration. An entire community gathers together to reflect on the hard work that has been done planting trees, building latrines and planning for the future. There are songs, speeches, skits, food, a band and a lot of dancing! If you have never been to a celebration in Uganda check out this video of a celebration in Bubugo Village:

We have lots of reasons to celebrate! Twenty years ago a group of missionaries moved to Jinja, Uganda and started meeting many of the people who make up Kibo’s staff today. Ten years later they founded Kibo Group. We are pretty excited to get to celebrate 10 years of working in Uganda as Kibo Group.

Abraham and Ida, who are both part of Kibo’s staff in Uganda have been traveling around the United States and the work they do is worth celebrating! Ida manages our Women’s Empowerment Program and Abraham coordinates The Mvule Project.

With so much to celebrate we decided to have our first ever Partnership Dinner in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sharing a meal with 200 of Kibo’s supporters and hearing Ida tell about the work she does was a true party, we even ended with dancing! We could not find a Ugandan band to come play for us, but Got It Covered did a great job filling in.


You may be wondering why we have dedicated an entire newsletter to talking about recent celebrations. There is a simple reason really: it’s hard to celebrate alone. The work that we do in Uganda is about people who live in a village in Uganda, Kibo staff, and Kibo supporters (that’s you!) all coming together to accomplish something that none of us can do on our own. And sometimes its good to pause and say thank you to everybody who is part of this adventure. Even if you did not make it to the dinner in Tulsa we want to say thanks for being a part of Kibo and making the work we do possible. So…Thank You for being part of Kibo!

We have to give a really big thank you to all the organizations that sponsored the Partnership Dinner: Strength of Mind Behavioral Health, Air Hygiene, Tulsa Christian Foundation, Continuous Improvement Solutions, Memorial Drive Church of Christ and Garnett Church of Christ.

There is one more big opportunity to get together coming up. If you are going to the Pepperdine Lectures in California this year, we want to have dinner with you! We will be having a dinner on April 30th starting at 4:30 (come and go as you wish) in the Faculty Dinning Room. Find more info on the Facebook event and let us know if you will be coming. Or, check out the conference schedule for more details.


Financial Stewardship

We really like talking about the good things that happen in Uganda: wells that are working, women that are learning life skills, and villages that are developing healthy sanitation habits. These are great things to talk about! But there is so much more that has to happen behind the scenes to make these projects possible. One, which seems particularly relevant to this edition of the newsletter, is managing our finances.

We take the responsibility of managing money entrusted to us very seriously. We want to ensure it is spent appropriately, that our projects are effective, and that Kibo has the resources needed to be healthy over the long term. Therefore, many people are involved in developing our budget and overseeing our finances. On a basic level Bobby Garner, who is the Country Director in Uganda, works with Kibo staff in Jinja to set a budget each year. This process is overseen by our Executive Director Larry Norman and approved by the board of directors. During the year, money is moved from our bank accounts in the United States to Ugandan banks to cover approved expenses based on requests for money. This money is then spent, receipts turned in, and reports generated to ensure that money is spent properly.

Kibo Group’s accountants Justine and Samantha (Sam) are critical in ensuring that this process runs smoothly on a day-to-day basis. Justine’s office is in Jinja, Uganda at the Source Cafe, while Sam lives and works in Rochester, Michigan. Justine works to track expenses incurred during the course of doing our work in Uganda, making sure we stay within budget, and compiling requests for funds each month. Sam maintains detailed records on incoming donations, monitors expenses to budget, prepares consolidated financial statements, and completes all required government filings. They both work together to keep everything in sync, check each other’s work, and make sure that money is being used to reach our objectives and goals.

Sometimes there are obstacles: two countries, two languages, two currencies, two sets of accounting laws and best practices, compounded by a 8-hour time difference! Sam and Justine both agree that the occasional frustrations of a delayed wire transfer or late night email are worth it. As you can see, tracking our money is critical to the health and success of Kibo Group, and is a great opportunity for all of us to learn from each other.