By AMANDA BEAM
NEW ALBANY —
Kyle Lanoue doesn’t get the chance to meet a 115-year-old woman every day. In fact, the principal of Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany usually engages some of the youngest of our society, not the opposite.
Yet over the summer, there he was in a Kenyan village face to face with a lady purportedly born before the turn-of the-19th-century. Although hesitant at first, the woman warmed up to Lanoue upon finding out one thing. He was an American.
“Americans come. They teach. They just don’t take,” she said, according to Lanoue.
Americans, the centenarian continued, bring medicine, knowledge and commitment. As an educator, Lanoue related her words to his own experience with his students.
“Sharing and not taking, we teach it here in kindergarten a lot,” he said. “If we operated that same way abroad, where would we be in this world? I think sometimes we’d be in a better position.”
Teaching comes naturally to Lanoue. So does helping others. It’s no surprise then when an opportunity came up to travel to Africa and do both, he took it. More than 16,000 miles later, he worked to bring clean water and other resources to Kenyans in need through several charities based in Louisville.
“We have a duty,” Lanoue said. “In terms of humanitarianism, when we have the resources and we have access to them, I feel we have a duty to help when we can, especially after living amongst the people of Kenya.”
The journey to Africa began last year for Lanoue when he approached Dr. Bill Smock, a friend and fellow member of the National Ski Patrol — an international winter rescue organization. Smock leads up missions to provide clean, sustainable water to communities around the world through the nonprofit organization WaterStep.
Working in with WaterStep, University of Louisville graduate and elite marathon runner Wesley Korir also aided the effort through his own nonprofit Kenyan Kids Foundation. Now a member of the Kenyan Parliament, Korir facilitated the trip.
Contaminated drinking water remains one of the biggest causes of illnesses in the developing world. According to UNICEF, more than 1 billion people worldwide live without access to safe water and 2 billion without proper sanitation. The result is startling. Every day, 6,000 children worldwide die due to a water-related disease, most of which are largely preventable.
Waterstep works to change this statistic. The organization provides chlorine generators free of charge to be used in communities across the globe. With table salt and either a 12-volt battery or solar panels as its main components, the mobile device generates chlorine that kills harmful water particles.
During several training sessions, Lanoue learned how to work these devices as well as repair hand pumps and other equipment needed prior to the purification. Once in Kenya, he instructed local men and women on how to use the portable generators. Once taught, the workers travel to the villages and purify their stored water for a nominal fee creating, in effect, a business.
“The vast majority of the population is very impoverished, but Wesley believes firmly in developing a system where people take care of themselves and not look for handouts,” Lanoue said.
In the two weeks Lanoue worked for the organization, six pumps were fixed which, in turn, now brings fresh water to around 5,000 of Korir’s constituents. Before, many walked four of five kilometers each way to fetch water from a nearby river. In addition, generators and tools were then provided to purify the water in the holding tanks.
Continuing his relationship with Korir, Lanoue now serves on the board for Kenyan Kids and plans to return to Africa in the future to help the people in other areas, including education.
“I learned a lot when I was there, which wasn’t something I expected,” Lanoue said. “It’s just another reminder of when we as a country talk about sharing with the rest of the world we’re also getting back knowledge in return.”
For more information on the above organizations, visit their websites at waterstep.org and kenyankidsfoundation.org