Water is Local Rotarian’s Gift for Native Village

Carmichael, CA  |  By Susan Maxwell Skinner
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Clean, free drinking water is now a reality for many Ugandans. Carmichael Rotarian and water engineer Richard Olebe led a campaign to provide the precious commodity for his native village. Photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - Carmichael resident Richard Olebe’s baby brother died after drinking contaminated water in his Ugandan village 67 years ago.

Today, thanks to efforts by Olebe, plus Ugandan and Sacramento Rotarians, more than 10,000 Ugandans will rejoice in safe water. Spearheading the mission, Olebe (73) is well-versed in his homeland’s needs. “My sisters spent hours every day collecting dirty water,” he recalls. “As a result, they couldn’t go to school. It’s not just a Ugandan problem; 300 million Africans don’t have access to safe drinking water today.”

The Kenya and Stanford-trained engineer worked for the California Department of Water Resources for 22 years. He joined Carmichael Rotary Club two years ago. “In 2016, Rotarians from Tororo (Uganda) approached me suggesting a project to improve life for thousands of people,” he explains. “They proposed replacing dirty water supplies for my former village of Iyolwa, in south-east Uganda.”

A plan -- to drill five wells; to dig pipelines and to build tanks for communities and schools – was approved. Fundraising for the $200,000 project began last year. Rotarians in Tororo and Carmichael came up with nearly $60,000. This sum was matched by club members in Sacramento, Uganda and Tanzania. Rotary Foundations Global Matching Funds supplied the balance.  “Iyolwa people began drinking water from our wells at the beginning of December,” reports Olebe.

“These are poor, poor, people. I’m proud we could do this for them. The villagers now have safe, free water for the first time in their lives. Babies won’t die like my brother did. Girls will go to school instead of trudging miles with jerry cans on their heads. Lack of finances prevented this from happening for many lifetimes.”

“The villagers dug the pipelines,” he says. “We’ve given them spare equipment in case of breakages. They’ll also share the cost of employing someone to maintain wells and pipelines.” Now retired, Olebe self-funded several trips to his homeland as the project progressed.  “I’ve seen people’s faces,” he says. “They’re happy and grateful for what we’ve given them. And I’m grateful Carmichael and Tororo could come together like this. Helping a village is one step toward saving the world.”

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