In November of 2018, MDC was finishing up paperwork to officially put up the shingle as a nonprofit organization in the US.
We were planning an order of solar home systems for electrifying family homes in the Maji District, where the national electric grid doesn’t reach. We had hired Ato (Mr.) Markos to be project manager, and were looking for a young technician to install the systems with solar panes, batteries, three lights and phone charging stations.
Then, in a visit to Maji, community leaders came to Chris Bounds (MDC treasurer) and me with a problem. Suddenly we faced the reality of our commitment to meeting the needs of the community as they were conveyed to us.
The Maji town water supply was down—the pump in the town’s well had burned out. Ato Markos led us to see the muddy spring where the 3500 citizens had to draw their water. Intestinal infections were spreading, he said. Children and the elderly were struggling. Wealthier citizens were buying bottled water; the poor were suffering.
Earlier that year, an Ethiopian church-related nonprofit had conducted a community needs survey for MDC. We knew that the only protected spring in the district was the one serving an apple orchard that Presbyterian church donors had funded. The only well in the district was in Maji town. We were going forward with our plan for electricity with the awareness that clean water issues would come up sooner or later. This was definitely sooner!
Chris Bounds went home and challenged his church, Covenant Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho, to raise the money for a new pump. Markos and I negotiated with Ato Abinet of the district water department for them to share the cost, and to take over all distribution system repairs that might be needed now and in the future.
As soon as we could, we sent US dollars to Solar Transfer Tech (STT), the business branch of our solar partner, to order the pump and a solar system to run it. While we waited for the delivery of the equipment, Ato Abinet’s staff tested the well for safety and volume. They repaired the distribution system.
I traveled back to Maji when everything came together for installation. I spent the morning hanging out with all the other interested townspeople, the air of excitement palpable in the air. At noon I was invited to take a break in town, where a surprise thank you luncheon had been planned in the best of Maji’s hole-in-the-wall eateries (too dark for photographs—no electricity, remember!)
After we ate, the speeches began. I was thanked again and again. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church priest brought down the house when he said he’d been invited to come and thank the daughter of Maji who was replacing the town’s pump. “I gladly agreed,” he said. “But I didn’t realize until I saw her that she was white!”
I knew my time to speak was coming. I greeted the guests in Amharic, and then said that Ato Yonas of STT would translate for me, “so you don’t have to listen to my broken Amharic.” A clamor rose up all around me. “No! No! We love your broken Amharic!” So I bravely forged ahead, and they graciously forgave all my grammatical mistakes.
We all got back to the work site in time for the moment when electricity was clicked on and sent down to the pump, deep in the well. We held our breath and strained our ears to hear faint mechanical vibrations from underground. Then the rumblings got louder and clean water gushed from the well. Shouting and hugging and laughter erupted.