Meet Your Neighbors: Jean, the agent of change

Photography by Doug Klembara. Words by Kelsi Klembara

Day 8 of the 10 Days

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The long hours, the long distances traveled, the difficult work environment – drilling water wells is not for the faint of heart.

“During the rainy season, work is really hard. The rain makes the roads difficult to navigate and the trucks can get stuck easily,” says Jean.

Despite the seasonal and day to day difficulties, Jean has been drilling for 8 years, and he’s worked as Living Water’s head driller for 4 years.

Jean has grown immensely during his time with Living Water. He began young, single and untrained, but he has worked hard to grow professionally over the years. Now married with a one year old son, Jean says his job enabled his wife to finish university and allows him to support his family. But that’s not the only reason why he loves his job. Jean is a passionate and determined leader committed to instilling communities with a love for both clean water and Jesus.

Living Water drill team make last minute preparations before heading out into the field.

Jean and his team depart from Kigali early in the evening, expecting they’ll reach Ruhango by 10 or 11 pm. They’re driving two behemoth trucks – both the Water Well Drilling Rig and Compressor truck. The road to Ruhango is well-paved, but windy and narrow, and unfortunately on this night, one of the trucks breaks down.

Jean checks on the compressor truck just before reaching the 10 Days drilling location in Ruwenzi.

The team reaches Ruhango at 2 a.m. They only have a few hours to sleep before they must be ready to drill the next morning.

As the sun begins to bake the hot sand in Ruhango, the team members don their blue jumpsuits and circle up for a prayer inside Living Water’s Ruhango office. No one has dark circles under their eyes and all are wide awake.

Living Water drill team members pray in the LW Ruhango office before heading out to drill a new well in Ruwenzi village.

Jean quietly directs people where to go as everyone hops in a car or truck and settles in for the hour drive up the dirt roads leading to Ruwenzi village.

The Drilling Rig waiting to make the last descent into Ruwenzi.

The drive is uncomfortable in a normal vehicle, let alone a massive truck reaching the height of two cars stacked on top of each other. Village after village passes by as the trucks climb steep one-way roads, plummet into ravines, and cross rickety bridges over trickling streams. Kids run as fast and as long as they can to keep up with the trucks, inevitably giving up with shouts and laughter.

In front is the drilling rig as it makes it way through small villages on the way to Ruwenzi.

Near the site of the future well, the trucks maneuver backwards down a slope to their destination, and suddenly everyone is talking loudly. Everyone has an opinion on the right way to back a massive diesel truck into a small space between trees. The driver of the Drilling Rig, John, begins to sweat, but he keeps his cool. He’s done this plenty of times before.

Jean also stays calm and although he is head driller, he doesn’t shout over the roaring chaos. Although he is not an expressive man, he knows how to communicate in the minimal amount of words and can crack a joke when the timing is right. His focus on the job is resolute, yet he leads his team with a clear kindness and a quiet guidance that attracts obedience.

Once the trucks are in position, the team gets to work. Yellow caution tape is placed around the site to keep the community at a safe distance, tools and pipes are moved in an assembly line from truck to ground. The conversations between the team are friendly but brief. It makes no difference who completes what task – each driller does just does what he needs to.

Jean says a final prayer to close out the devotion.

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The drill team hit water at a rare and short 25 meters in Ruwenzi.

“”I’m grateful for my team, we’ve been together almost eight years,” says Jean. “This is teamwork we can’t do alone so whatever we accomplish takes all of us.”

Almost the entire Ruwenzi community is present, and the Living Water gives a brief introduction of the project followed by a short devotional. Although Living Water staff have already met and consulted with village leaders to plan for the new well, this is the community’s first glimpse at Living Water’s mission and purpose, and this time means a lot to Jean. He enjoys hearing God’s word in every new community he works in.

The community devotion before the drilling begins. Lead by Living Water staff, Pastor Melchizedek, and head driller, Jean.

“For each new day, we have a morning devotion where we get to hear God’s word. Then you go out into the community to start work and you pray, so you hear God’s word,” Jean says. ” I could work somewhere and make money, but then I would only by feeding my physical body. With Living Water, I get to feed my spiritual heart so it’s a blessing.”

As the day drags on, the community settles in to watch. Some rest under the shade of banana trees and others choose a spot where they have the best view. The kids continue to creep forward before they are kindly asked by the drill team to move to a safe distance. Time and again this happens, and yet their patience does not wane.

Kids in Ruwenzi react to the drilling process. Most remained nearby all day.

This same scene is repeated weekly as the team moves from village to village to drill wells. The shouting, the excitement, the failure to listen – none of this surprises the team, yet they handle it with grace and kindness; faithful that their interactions today will set the tone for the future of clean water in a community.

The drill team understands the importance in treating each project as if it’s their first. In 2009, an estimated 50,000 water supply infrastructures were dysfunctional across Africa. A sense of ownership by the local communities using a well is key to lowering this number. The drill team knows that if they begin by highly valuing their work, the community is more likely to treat it with the care necessary to keep the well functioning and sustainable.

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Near the time of day when the heat finally makes peace with the earth, beginning it’s careful retreat for the night, water bursts from the ground where Jean and his team have worked tirelessly. They’ve reached water at a remarkably shallow 25 meters – even more reason to celebrate.

Jean works quickly to make sure the drill team maintains control of the drilling.

“When we hit water, I get my emotions from the people around. The way they shout and show joy makes me grateful to do this,” says Jean. “When you find water in a community, that’s when you begin to notice the change,” he says.

The noise and moisture on this day remind Jean and his team of just how deep and broad this change can reach. These men are not only providing the first step toward quenching their neighbors’ physical thirst in a sustainable way, but they are also laying the foundation for the people they meet to find security in the good news of God’s love and grace.

Rwanda Living Water drill team.

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