A decade ago, the young people of a village in the Lothians were among the first to heed a cry for help from some of the world’s poorest communities.
Learning of the desperate plight of the people of Kagera in north-west Tanzania, a tiny youth group pledged its support to the little-known Poverty Relief Foundation (PRF).
Over the next five years, the entire community came together to carry out a range of fundraising activities which paid for one of the charity’s first wells, plus a rainwater tank and a classroom.
Now, ten years on, the community has been stunned to receive thanks from the organisation’s founder.
Raymond Rowan, who set up PRF in 2005 to help African families get access to water and education, said: “On behalf of the people of Tanzania who’ve benefited from these projects, we thank the people of West Linton, and all the people and companies that have kindly donated over the years.
“West Linton was one of the first places to help us when we had very little money. They went out, collected the money and produced the goods. One of the first wells came through the money they provided, and this encouraged us to move forward.”
Raymond visited West Linton youth group The Juice in 2005 to talk about the work of his charity, inspiring them – and the rest of the village – to get involved.
Since then PRF has gone from strength to strength, building more than 100 wells which provide clean drinking water to at least 200,000 people in Tanzania.
“When we started constructing the wells nine years ago, I never imagined we would reach even 50, so to get more than 100 is beyond all expectations,” said Raymond.
The youth group, which meets in St Andrew’s Church, became involved after hearing about the challenges faced by African communities in getting access to education and to clean water. Raymond’s niece, Julie Jackson, who lives in West Linton, suggested he met them to deepen their understanding of the problems facing people in the developing world.
She said: “Both my children were in the group and I was looking for something that had a bit of a personal touch, and I got Raymond to come up and talk to them. It really hit home how little these children from Tanzania had.”
Since then West Linton has staged several events to raise funds, and recorded a music CD which was played on African radio.
They raised more than £1000 by selling copies for £5 each – enough to construct a well and pump in Rugendagenzi in the Biharamulo area of Kagera. West Linton’s other fund-raising activities have included a sponsored Walk for Africa in which participants walked two or three miles each way to collect water and bring it back to the village.
Tim Crick, who was joint leader of The Juice, said the whole experience had been “hugely rewarding” for him and for the children.
He said: “It was great seeing the engagement of the youngsters in understanding what children in Africa were having to do, and their enthusiasm to raise the money to really make a difference.
“They were delighted when they saw the pictures of the well with the name of the youth group on a plaque. To be part of the building of the school house where the children had nothing before was also a massive thing for them.”
PRF started building wells in 2005, initially at the rate of five a year, but the charity’s efforts have gained momentum. By the end of 2013 they had funded 96 wells, each serving hundreds of families in the Kagera region. Each well costs an average of £2,100 and is used by up to 500 families, each averaging eight members.
The wells provide communities with clean drinking water, helping to drastically reduce cases of water-borne diseases such as malaria.
Raymond said: “Apart from saving lives, the children have fewer trips to hospital, which means they can spend more time in school, and less sick days for the adults means they’re able to spend more time cultivating their land.”
Wells are dug by hand by local people, who then appoint a committee to make sure they are cleaned and maintained properly.
PRF has also provided nine large rainwater tanks holding up to 150,000 litres and 75 small tanks of 15,000 litres each, which are shared by four or five families in very remote areas. As well as fresh water projects, PRF funds the building of classrooms, and also provides “revolving loan” facilities for groups of women to set up their own businesses.
The charity has paid for ten permanent classrooms where before there were makeshift shelters – or in some cases, no educational facilities at all.
Some of the “classrooms” they replaced were little more than a thatched roof on wooden supports, exposed to the elements on all sides, with 50 or more children sitting on stones, with no desks or books.
By providing classrooms PRF aims to give the children a chance of making something of themselves so that they can escape poverty.
PRF has also recently expanded its work into neighbouring Shinyanga region.
The charity – which guarantees that 100 per cent of all money donated is used for funding the projects – is keen to construct more wells and classrooms in Shinyanga as well as in Kagera.