La Jolla residents help bring clean water to African village

By Jenna Jay

A vision by La Jolla-based NIKA Water company to use its profits to bring clean water to parts of the world living without the vital necessity has spawned a global initiative. Together with the organizations, Free the Children, and Me to We, NIKA co-founders Jeff Church and Mike Stone assembled a crew of 50 family members, friends and business distributors for a June 20-27 trip to the Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya.

There in the Pimbiniet village, the volunteers helped construct buildings, interact with locals, and participate in a water ceremony to celebrate the first streams of clean water pumped into the village through a pipe system.

“What was funny was what the locals said when they first drilled and the water started coming out clear,” said Tom Keck of La Jolla whose family went on the trip and witnessed the water ceremony. “People looked and said, ‘We can’t drink that; it’s not yellow.’ ”

Bringing clean water to the African village is just one of four initiatives that Free the Children has put into place as goals to the village’s self-sustainability. The four-step model is one that NIKA CEO Jeff Church said he sought when searching for a non-profit organization for his company’s profits.

“We only work with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that have a holistic approach to poverty,” Church said, “and by that I mean a focus on bringing clean water, providing ways for people in the village to create income for themselves, health care, and education. It’s kind of like a four-legged stool.”

In African villages, such as Pimbiniet in Kenya, women called “mamas” cannot attend school because they spend their days walking to and from the river to carry water to their villages. By implementing this four-step plan, mamas can focus on developing income instead of on transporting water, and coupled with health care and education, the village can improve its overall stature.

Volunteers on the trip helped with the water initiative as well as embracing the culture through interactions with the children, Maasai warriors and tribe mamas.

“We went on a water walk with some of the mamas,” said 12-year-old Bishop’s student Lily Keck, who asked for donations for Free the Children in lieu of gifts for her birthday last month. “My favorite memory was with all the school kids. I had to go down to lunch so I was walking with them and I had no idea where I was going and they were all holding my hand, bringing me down to their lunch.”

Seeing their efforts and the efforts of NIKA Water put to use was something Lily’s father Tom said he took away from the trip. “What was neat was we have watched Mike and Jeff start NIKA; we kind of knew that it was about clean water and it was a good cause, but this allowed us to see firsthand where those profits go and the good that it can do these people.”

So far, NIKA has provided aid to communities in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Ecuador, with plans for expanding to more countries. Over the last three years, NIKA Water has established relationships with 700 stores around the country. Bottled NIKA Water can be found locally at Jimbo’s Market in Del Mar, Jonathan’s Market in la Jolla, Burger Lounge, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, Lean and Green, Burns Drugs, and some coffeeshops around town.

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