The irony wasn’t lost on most. Pounding rain drenched the crowds as they slogged through stream-like puddles. The torrential downpour was a soggy reminder that we were at the house concert to raise money for a parched village in Kenya. At the Ohayo Mountain Road home, Bar Scott and Marc Black performed on the first Saturday after March 22 — World Water Day 2007 — an auspicious evening to begin fundraising to bring safe water to Miyuga, a small village of about 2000 people in the Rachuonyo District of southwestern Kenya.
The water committee — David Marell, Debra Moskowitz, Elin Menzies, Gary Heckelman, Naomi Ferleger, Nathan Brenowitz, Patricia Mitchell, Ruth Levine, Sheila Brady and I — didn’t just decide to embark on a journey of begging people to invest in drilling a well. We had come together earlier while raising money to ensure that sibling orphans from Miyuga would enroll and graduate from boarding school. The ‘Kodi Kids Benefit’ had already become an Ulster County staple, coordinated by jazz guitarist Peter Einhorn. The annual concerts brought together world class musicians where locals gave freely to help deliver on a faraway promise.
Long story short: a brother makes a deathbed promise to the father of these children that they would finish school. When he can no longer keep his word, he turns to a professor at Columbia University, where he is attending on scholarship. She puts him in touch with me, suggesting that my work with UNICEF might be an opening for him to get the development agency to take up the call. It wouldn’t. Instead, my spouse, Ruth, and I decide that, living in Woodstock, where better a place to rally a community to help children nearly half a planet away? We threw a brunch for friends who opened their pocketbooks and funded the kids’ first year of boarding school.
Such naiveté started an eight-year and counting mission to get five children through high school. Somewhere along the way, David was moved by the Kodi brothers’ tales of Miyuga’s children being forced to leave school because they needed to trek six kilometers to a river for filthy water and how babies ended up dying from water-borne illnesses anyway. He and his wife, Patricia, couldn’t turn away from the challenge and soon we became a committee of 10, cajoling, inspiring, persuading ordinary people to take a chance that water could flow in a drought-ravaged village. We were off and crawling toward what would be a nearly five-year, one-war, clashing-cultures, $50,000 project. The final price tag was shocking — about 10 times what we thought it would cost, with added expenses at every turn.