“The Great Success!” That’s what the people in two leper villages named the result of our society’s biggest project to date – A project that resulted in a truly life changing event that lifted the lives of over a thousand people in these two villages. The name of the project is proudly displayed on our water tower.
Our story of success began three long years ago when Dr Mai Khanh, our society’s resident doctor, approached the members of the board of Damien the Leper Society with the idea of a large scale clean water project. For several decades our society has completed projects that brought clean water to the lepers. Our first water project, completed in 1986, was a simple drilling of a well that brought clean water to a small group of lepers. However we had never attempted such a large scale project – a project that would cost our society more than half of our yearly budget.
Our board members discussed the project at great length. We were very excited at the prospect of such a big project. Yet we were torn because funding would have to be diverted from our list of many other projects. But in the end we decided to pour a major portion of our funding in to this project. It was so difficult to reduce our food assistance, our home building assistance, our scholarships to children of lepers whom we are trying hard to educate and give them a chance from escaping the fate of being lepers like their parents. However, we knew that this project can change the lives of so many and we did not want to miss the chance.
This project was more than simply drilling a well to bring water to some people. We have done that many times in the past. In this highland region of Vietnam, a normal well would bring water in the rainy season, but when the dry season comes, these types of well would invariably dry up and the villagers would have to travel for miles on foot to get their water. Such arduous task is tough enough for normal people, let alone lepers with deformities in their extremities. For this project we would drill several very deep wells that reach the deep water table and that could deliver water year round to the lepers. Since the water was for two villages, we also had to design an extensive water distribution system as well. The project would not be completed after construction either. Our society had to work with local people to ensure long term maintenance and operation of the water system we created. In short, our society was attempting a feat normally left to the water works department of the government.
We began our effort with finding a reputable contractor that has proven experience in drilling deep wells in the highland region in Vietnam. With the assistance of our field agents we found a good contractor that quickly provided us with a proposal completed with design drawing and cost estimate for deep water wells, a water tower, and water distribution system. The proposal was then reviewed and approved by several engineers that are members of the society.
With the design in hand, our society began the process of obtaining permits and negotiating with the local government at these villages for long term maintenance and operation. It took many months for our society to obtain the permits and an agreement with the local government that would allow a non-profit operation of the water system to provide free water to all the lepers in the villages. Contributions by non-leper residents of the villages would pay for the maintenance and operation of the water system in the long term.
The dry season of 2010 came and gave us a good time window for construction. The villagers and our society spent months of anxious waiting for the construction to finish. Our society members made several trips to the construction site to inspect the quality of the work by our contractor.
Finally the day came and the villagers finally received their clean water. Even though many of our members of the society could not be there, the videos we had on the expression on the faces of the lepers were priceless. When the lepers, for the very first time in their lives, had a feel and taste for clean water, they broke out beautiful smiles that brought joy to our hearts. Instead of the muddy, dirty water from the streams and ponds that they from which used to bathe, to wash their clothes, and to drink, they now have clean and healthy water.
The impact of the water system built by our society went far beyond drinking water and sanitation. The villagers now have water for growing crops for food in the dry season. With the water, they are now able to grow pepper and coffee plants that can bring more income to the village. With our water project, we have set forth the motion to bring prosperity into their future. Our society has changed their lives.