Marshalltown and Ames churches unite

Don’t underestimate the power of small change.

That was the consensus of nine central Iowans representing several churches who met at Ace Precision Casting, LLC, in Marshalltown Thursday to look at three disassembled drilling rigs which will eventually be shipped to South Sudan.

Small change in the form of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, donated by Sunday School attendees at Trinity Lutheran Church, Marshalltown, was the initial funding mechanism for an effort six years ago.

The mission: To provide clean water to Old Fangak, an extremely remote village in South Sudan.

Villagers had historically drawn disease-laden water from a nearby swampy area or the Zeraf River, which flows by the village.

Fatalities and debilitating illnesses resulted from consuming the contaminated water.

Although six wells have been installed over the years, more are needed to serve the growing village and surrounding area, which numbers approximately 50,000.

Old Fangak is also home to a medical clinic, managed by the Alaska-Sudan Medical Project for nearly 28 years, which daily draws hundreds of patients, many who walk 50 miles or more on dirt roads in extreme weather to receive aid.

A number of South Sudanese from Old Fangak area were attending Trinity, and informed the parish of the critical need for clean water in the village.

Megan Emerson, 16, of Marshalltown and a Trinity member, was at Ace Precision to represent the parish youth, who, as elementary students six years ago, played a major role funding the project.

Emerson was 10 then, and she clearly remembers dropping small change into glass jars, and later, a small wooden well.

“It is great to know that the small change we provided six years ago made a difference, and help funded the installation of hand-pumped wells in South Sudan” she said.

South Sudanese attending St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church in Ames informed that parish of Old Fangak’s need too, and were also alerted to Trinity’s effort.

St. Cecilia’s has donated funds several times over the course of the project and representing them Thursday were Julie Haas and Mary Ross.

“The donations are part of our international relief effort,” said Haas. We are currently supporting two international efforts and the clean water for Sudan is one. We also support a number of local causes.”

A Trinity committee managing the project began publicizing their efforts.

Soon, other churches, such as Our Saviour Lutheran of Marshalltown, donated funds.

“We are pleased to be part of this project, to team up with other churches and to help bring clean water to the villagers of Old Fangak,” said Ron Duimstra of OSL.

Also contributing were New Hope Christian Church and St. Mary Catholic Church, both of Marshalltown, Trinity Lutheran of State Center, and the Southeast Iowa Synodical Lutheran Women.

Greg Brown of Marshalltown, a Marshalltown Trinity member, president of Ace Precision, and a Rotarian, learned of a Rotary International grant program to fund clean water initiatives.

Brown, Matt Streeter of State Center and Dennis Drager of Marshalltown and a Rotarian, coordinated efforts and submitted a grant proposal to Rotary International of $78,000 which was approved.

Marshalltown Rotary Club members contributed approximately $3,000 and Hy-Vee Inc. contributed $5,000.

Now the program initially funded by small change has now collected more than $100,000, with some previously dispersed for the purchase of wells currently serving the village, among other expenses.

The long term goal of the clean water project is to not only provide drilling rigs, but to train South Sudanese to use the rigs and start small business, said Brown.

Drager and Streeter attended a well-drilling school in 2013 and will eventually travel to South Sudan and teach their skills to locals. The rigs at Ace Precision will be shipped to South Sudan once warring factions agree to a cease fire.

“We are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to ship these drilling rigs to South Sudan once peace is in place,” said WellSpring board member Ray Micheel of Marshalltown. “With clean water, there will be improved living conditions as well as teaching South Sudanese valuable well drilling and business skills.”

Brown, Streeter, and other committee members, including two South Sudanese, have done more than raise awareness and funds, they traveled to Old Fangak in February 2012 with members of the ASMP to install one well and repair another adjoining the medical clinic. The team was in country for 10 days.

Editor’s note: Writer Donahey is a WellSpring Committee board member and traveled with fellow team members to Old Fangak in 2012.