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Reprise: A Loving Couple Helping Save Lives

In 2011, I wrote a Yahoo! column about Beckham and Karla Allen starting Ozark Water Projects, bringing fresh water to Haiti and Kenya. But since I hadn’t written a column for Yahoo! in two years, deciding to publish elsewhere, I recently discovered that Yahoo! had erased all my columns, making them no longer available on the Internet. So, for the record, I’m publishing this original column giving the background. I’ll then follow up with another column updating you on the Allen’s loving work.

Beckham and Karla Allen Collect Shoes, Turn Them into Pure Water for Haiti, Kenya

In July 2011, Beckham Allen led three other members of his Ozark Water Projects team to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Their mission: to help local Port-Au-Prince citizens survive by setting up pure-water stations in a starving community.

While Allen and his cohorts worked with residents, digging wells and setting up water-purification systems to provide clear, running water, his wife Karla was back in their Arkansas hometown of Little Rock, continuing to organize shoe-collection drives–their source for raising monies to purchase water-station equipment to help more struggling people survive.

KarlaAndBeckhamAllen

Karla and Beckham Allen…and shoes…

In January 2012, Beckham Allen and another group of dedicated volunteers will travel to Kenya, then to Honduras in early spring, then back to Haiti in July. They’ll spend a month in each country repeating their life-nurturing service. The Allens themselves–Beckham’s a computer project manager by profession, Karla’s a teacher–find this growing service to be life-nourishing.

“Twenty years ago when we lived in Saudi Arabia we went on vacation to Kenya and Zimbabwe,” Beckham recalls. “I fell in love with Africa and was so touched by the people there that I told Karla I didn’t know how, or when, or what, but some day I was going back to Africa and help these wonderful people. For the next 20 years, from time to time, I would tell her, ‘You know I’m going back to Africa, don’t you?’ ”

They stumbled into the shoes-for-water profession through fate and a failing economy rather than planning, eventually leading to Beckham’s return to Africa.

“In August 2010 I got laid off from my job for the third time in four years.  I was watching a Cardinals baseball game one night and they interviewed a guy known as George “The Shoeman.”  George explained how he collects used shoes and turns them into clean water in Kenya.  I looked up George and gave him a call to get more information.  The more we talked, the more I realized what a great project this was, and one that I could do.  I had several thousands of frequent flyer miles saved up for the travel during my previous employment, so I went to Kenya in January 2011 with George.  Needless to say that trip changed my life. It confirmed that this wasn’t just something I wanted to do, it was something I had to do.”

Karla also plunged into the clear-water project, and while she holds down the new operation in the U.S., she’s aware and sensitive to the needs overseas. And you can tell from her language, especially the term “we,” her spirit is there with her husband and the Ozark team.

“In Kenya, access to water is scarce,” explains Karla.  “There is water but it is 125 feet down.  In that case we drill a well.  If there is ground water, but its safety is not reliable, we put in a water purification system.  Last January, in Kenya, we dug four water wells and put in place five water purification systems. The needs are different in Haiti. There the water is unsafe, so we mainly install water purification systems.”

Once the Allens decided to dedicate themselves to the shoes-for-water effort, the next step involved getting financially and legally organized.

“We raised approximately $3,000 from a few very special friends,” explains Beckham, “and shortly after that we created a non-profit charity called Ozark Water Projects.  Since our first shoe drive in January 2011, we have collected more than 85,000 pairs of used shoes.  Our goal for 2012 is to raise 200,000 pairs.”

The Shoe Collecting Process

Ozark Water Projects collects donated used and new shoes year round from businesses, churches, schools, special events and shoe drives.

TruckloadOfShoes

Volunteers help Beckham fill a truckload of shoes.

Then the shoes receive a second life when The Shoeman exports them to retailers in the developing world. The shoes’ resale “provides jobs and affordable footwear. Affordable shoes are a life-saving tool as they protect the new owner’s feet and overall health from foot abrasions, parasites and mites,” according to the Ozark website. “Funds generated from the export of shoes provide well drilling rigs, water purification systems, and hand pump repair micro businesses to bring clean, fresh water.”

“We have raised about $30,000 this year” from collecting those 85,000 pairs, Karla notes. She adds that the 200,000 pairs they hope to amass in 2012 should bring about $70,000. Those monies will go primarily for equipment and travel expenses. Since they’re new in the work of forming and activating Ozark, Karla’s still seeing specific numbers unfold.

“The first expense is the purchase and shipment of the well-digging rig,” she states.  “That totals about $35,000, and numerous wells can be drilled with that one rig.  I haven’t seen any cost accounting to allocate that amount out per well yet.  Once the rig is purchased and shipped we estimate that each well is about $6,000. Workers lodge at wherever is available.  On the last trip [Haiti] they stayed at the Lawala community center.  It was basically cinder block rooms with no electricity or water or windows.  This trip [Kenya] they will stay at a local bed and breakfast.  Lodging for this trip will be a lot higher.”

The Shoeman is George P. Hutchings, 62, of Ballwin, Missouri, a former Marine.  In 1994 he founded Eagle Wings Ministries, a 501(c)3 charity dedicated to humanitarian and educational opportunities. His Shoeman Water Projects is a part of that operation. Since 1998, he has visited Kenya repeatedly, shipping supplies including 21,000 meals for orphans, $2 million in medical supplies, dental labs, and neurosurgeons for pediatric facial reconstructions. In 2008, he began to focus on providing clean drinking water.

The Water Providing Process

WaterIsLife760

Water is life.

Last July, Beckham went to Haiti with three associates: Chris Allen, Thomas Hankins, and Clay Baker. They teamed with The Shoeman’s Haiti Water Projects mission team in installing the water purification systems and repairing hand pumps. Each system purifies 55 gallons of water per minute–about 10,000 gallons a day. The systems are located to serve the most people: usually at schools, churches or other public centers open to an entire community. All that’s needed to generate a system’s power: a car battery.

After establishing a purification system, the team trains two people to be responsible for the system and all components at each site, then returns to retrain them on another day. This training includes basic sanitation and hygiene activities. If the new operators have any problems at a later date, they contact the local water minister or the interpreters who are also trained to set up the system.

In 2012, Beckham plans to dig four wells and install several water purification systems in Kenya, followed by more in Honduras and Haiti.

Growing Water Crisis

Morgan Stanley, the investment giant, recently released a report, “Peak Water: The Preeminent 21st Century Commodity Story,” stressing that the world’s declining water supply and rising demand will prove this century’s major challenge to global civilization. The report also notes that one of the hopeful solutions involves advancements in water treatment and reuse.

The Allens and The Shoeman, in a small but very active and effective way, are responding to that challenge, one community at a time.

 

Roger Armbrust

Roger Armbrust's articles and columns have covered labor and management, Congressional legislation, and federal court cases, including appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. He formerly served as national news editor of Back Stage in New York City, where he also taught a professional writing course at New York University. His recent book of sonnets -- oh, touch me there: Love Sonnets -- is available from Amazon and other book sites. He is an associate curator of The Clyde Fitch Report. He is also co-founder and co-curator of reality: a world of views.

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