One Birthday Wish
Transforms the Lives of an Entire Village
Marie-Antoinette Boot was turning 50 and wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. However, her version of “special” was very different from what most of us would choose. She didn’t want to take a luxury cruise, head to a spa for pampering, or throw an over-the-top celebration. She wanted to make a difference. “For me, it was a time of reflection. What does my life mean? What can I leave behind?”
A friend told Marie-Antoinette about Innovation Africa, a non-denominational group that uses advanced technology to economically build wells in Africa and bring clean drinking water to villages with limited resources. So Marie-Antoinette opted to mark her birthday by making a tangible difference in the lives of Ugandan villagers 7,000 miles away in sub-Saharan Africa.
With the support of her husband, Dirk, Marie-Antoinette “adopted” the small village of Nabweye, where sadly, one in four children was dying from drinking non-potable water. The only water source for the villagers was a small mud hole. Instead of going to school, young girls had to walk back and forth from the mud hole up to eight times a day, carrying jugs of water for their family’s daily needs. But the water was contaminated and there wasn’t enough firewood to boil and purify it, so the villagers continued to get sick.
The Boot family funded the entire cost of the drilling and construction of a well in Nabweye. After it was completed, Marie-Antoinette and her eldest son, Henry made plans to travel to Uganda to witness the first stream of clean water flow through a spigot in the village center.
Two days before they left, Henry put out a call for soccer balls and jerseys in the hope of bringing along a few to give to the children. Wiltonians did not disappoint, and over 200 jerseys and numerous balls were donated. In addition, the Boots arranged for each of the 700 village children to receive a notebook and two pencils—educational necessities none of the students had ever possessed.
Marie-Antoinette was dubbed KaiKha or “kind woman” by the villagers, and she and Henry were warmly received and feted. When she asked what else she could do to help, the villagers told her they needed seeds to grow crops, so she arranged for sacks of seeds to be delivered. At that point, Marie-Antoinette believed her journey was over, but as it turned out, it was just beginning.
A villager told KaiKha about carrying her dying son 12 kilometers on a dirt road to seek medical help. Other women shared their experiences of going into labor and having to walk on foot—often in the middle of the night—to the distant medical center. If they didn’t make it in time, they were forced to deliver their babies at the side of the road. Could KaiKha help the village by building a medical center?
“I thought, I just built a well,” says Marie-Antoinette, “I can’t build a medical center! But standing next to me at the well ceremony was a minister from the Ugandan government, and he said if I could find a way to build it, he would donate the land and fully staff the center. And I thought, “‘Well that could be an interesting possibility.’”
“We’re all mothers,” she continues, “we all love our children and want the best for them. I knew I had to find a way to help. So when I came back to Wilton, I turned to our community. I made postcards about the project and distributed them to local businesses and restaurants, to dental and medical offices. I collected donations through a fiscal sponsor so all contributions would be tax deductible. I spoke at our community church and at the Kiwanis Club. I spoke wherever I could, telling people about the village of Nabweye and how, with a little money, we could collectively effect change in someone’s life.”
In two months Marie-Antoinette raised $51,000 through the generous contributions from the Wilton community. It was enough not only to build a medical center, but also to provide new school desks and chairs, and to purchase much-needed underwear for all the children in Nabweye.
Innovation Africa stepped up and oversaw the construction of the medical center, using standardized architectural plans provided by theUgandan government. While examining the blueprints, Marie-Antoinette noticed an anomaly: there was no provision for running water or electricity. “It turns out many medical centers in Uganda don’t have running water. I raised extra money to fix that and now there are four rooms that have access to water: the exam room, the maternity room, the shower room, and the laundry.”
This past summer KaiKha returned to the village to attend the dedication ceremony for the medical center, where she presented a plaque to be affixed to the building that simply says: “Nabweye Medical Center donated by The Wilton Community.”
Thanks to the arrival of clean, accessible water, the transformation of the village has been remarkable. Crops are flourishing, villagers are healthy, and students are thriving. Women now deliver their babies in a modern medical facility with electricity, running water, and trained medical professionals. People with malaria, typhoid, and other diseases can get treatment.
Marie-Antoinette’s new goal is to inspire other individuals and communities across the country to do what she did—bring water, supplies, and basic medical care to those needing help in developing countries.
“When you think about building a well in Africa, you think that’s not something a normal person would do, it’s something a celebrity or a philanthropist like Melinda Gates would do. But in actuality anyone can do it. You can rally your community. If you can get 400 peopleto each donate a hundred dollars you can build a well and effect change in a significant way. You can foster an economy, save lives, and help people for generations to come.”
She pauses. “This was nothing I planned. It just happened. But I feel so grateful to be able to help make a difference in people’s lives. After all, it’s not what you take from this world; it’s what you leave behind that really matters.”