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Africa benefits from visit by King City woman

Mary Thibert helps dedicate new wells, distribute glasses, repair school


by: COURTESY OF LAURIE THIBERT - FRESH WATER ON TAP -- Mary Thibert (fifth from right) stands with the Water Access Now and CRS teams at the new water borehole in Adaribe village in Ghana's northern region.Mary Thibert probably has the best summer vacation story of anyone in the King City Lions Club: She spent three weeks in July with her daughter Laurie Thibert and Laurie's son Osei in the Republic of Ghana, which is a democracy located on West Africa's Ivory Coast.

They went to assist with projects for Water Access Now, a non-profit Laurie works for that focuses on the installation of water wells in villages, and Point Hope Inc., which supports schools and education.

Mary, who has made three trips to Mexico with Lions club groups to provide eyeglasses and other healthcare aids, collected 500 pairs of reading glasses and 350 pairs of sunglasses to take to Africa.

She, Laurie and Osei, whom Laurie adopted from an orphanage in Ghana, went a week ahead of the rest of the group to Accra, the capital of Ghana, which is the site of Lila's Child Care operation and Osei's orphanage.

"Osei was 9 when Laurie started the adoption process, and he was 12 when she got him," Mary said. "Now he is 14 and has been away for two years, so this was a chance for him to visit with his friends who were still in the orphanage."

One of the projects there was to turn a partially completed building with a concrete-block foundation and wood frame into a school, and Mary and Laurie met with architects when they arrived to finalize the plans. In addition, a local Lions club set up a clinic the next day to check people's vision and provide eyeglasses.

"About 100 yards from the school is a rock quarry, which is where Lila started a school for 120 children ages 18 months to 12 years," Mary said. "Lila had sent word to the parents about that reading glasses would be distributed the next day, and on Saturday hundreds of people were lined up. The quarry workers wanted sunglasses to protect their eyes from rock fragments and dust. We gave away all 350 that day, and we also gave away about 350 pairs of reading glasses. We had people read different sizes of lettering on a piece of paper to determine their prescription.

"We also gave 20 pairs away to the teachers and workers at Lila's orphanage, and left the rest with the local Lions club."

Next the Water Access Now group traveled to northern Ghana to meet with the governor of the region and work on the well program. Water Access Now partners with Catholic Relief Services, which charges no overhead for its services, according to Mary.

"They have put in 75 wells total so far, including 12 this year," Mary said. "The cost per well is $5,000 to $6,000. Catholic Relief Services holds back 30 percent for six months to make sure the well works.

"Catholic Relief Services also promotes health issues, and all the wells must be located close to medical facilities to encourage women to give birth there and teach them the importance of clean water.

"After the governor met with us, he cleared his schedule to stay for three days while we dedicated bore holes for wells. We drove around on bumpy roads to different villages that were about two hours apart. The ceremonies took 3 ½ hours, and the overlord, chief, village council and local people all came. There was singing and dancing, and if we started dancing, the whole crowd roared."

After the first ceremony, the Water Access Now group went back to where they were staying to eat dinner when two men sent by the village chief came to get them and take them back to the village.

"We had to go back so they could thank us and give us a goat," Mary said. "After the dedication ceremony the next day, we got a basket of eggs, and the third day we got another goat. We gave the goats to the director of Ghana Health Services."

According to Mary, to get a well, villages had to raise 10 percent of the cost and form a committee of nine people to be in charge of the well - three trained to repair it, three on the sanitation committee and three to do fundraising in case they need repairs.

Each well is built inside a concrete box that drains to a 4-foot-by-6-foot trough so animals can drink the overflow.

by: COURTESY OF LAURIE THIBERT - CROCODILE HUNTER - Mary Thibert pets a crcodile at Paga Crocodile Pond in Bolgatonga, Ghana.On the trip, there also was time for a little sightseeing that included a closed slave colony and a crocodile farm before the eight people on the team went back to Accra for a couple days, where they were surprised to see the school nearly finished. "We stayed for two more days and helped finished painting the old school," Mary said. "With the left-over concrete blocks, we built a retaining wall to hold back the trucks carrying rocks from the rock quarry. We also put in a water-containment system, and after we left, the rest of the group painted the new building before returning to Kirkland, Wash."

In addition to the eyeglasses, Mary brought more than 100 soccer balls that were handed out at orphanages and to soccer teams.

"We were so appreciated there," Mary said. "Everyone said, 'Welcome to our beautiful country.' They were so glad to have us visit and so proud of their country.

"It was a very enjoyable trip. I wish everyone could take a trip to that part of the world. When we go to Africa or Mexico, we don't stay at beach resorts."

As soon as Mary, Laurie and Osei got back to Washington, where Laurie and Osei live, they headed straight for the Oregon coast to meet up with other family members, which include Mary's eight kids and 16 grandkids, to celebrate Mary's 75th birthday.