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'One village at a time': Local nonprofit brings water to Congo residents

Staff reports

Imagine navigating the Covid-19 pandemic without a flowing supply of clean water. This is a reality for more than 800 million people around the world already vulnerable to deadly waterborne diseases. More than a million people, half of them children, die each year from diarrhea illnesses alone.

These tragic losses could be prevented by access to clean water. Efforts to improve water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, are a top priority for humanitarian aid organizations, both large and small. These efforts have shifted to incorporate the challenges of COVID-19, and one of these organizations is a small non-profit based in Upstate New York.

For nearly a decade, Habitat Technologies Solutions for the Congo (HTSCongo) has been aiding the hardest to reach areas of The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a continent away in Central Africa.

HTSCongo founder Leon Fontier, shown on a previous trip to the Congo with some happy children at a well dispensing water used for drinking, cooking and handwashing.

The director of HTSCongo, longtime Penn Yan resident Leon Fontier, was born in the Congo. When he retired from a successful career as a metal craftsman and designer, Fontier made a commitment to give back to his birth country. His trade gave him the skills needed to design and build water systems for marginalized populations in one of the poorest countries in the world; where many small rural villages rely on contaminated creeks for their water supply.

"We specialize in techniques that allow us to go into the small villages." says Fontier. "For example, we drill manually because those big rigs for drilling wells cannot reach the small villages because the roads are impassable. We can do it because we use small equipment that can be carried in."

Over the years Fontier has made several trips to the Congo with the equipment, supplies and funds needed to build wells and latrines. He hires and trains locals for the construction projects, empowering them to build other wells and keep them operational.

Christelle Mujinga, a student shown utilizing a facemask and pedal-powered handwashing station.

When Covid-19 started to spread globally, many organizations had to leave or halt WASH efforts in the Congo. Fontier too was forced to cancel his upcoming trip for the next well building project. Fortunately, in the previous year HTSCongo had helped establish a local non-profit based in the Congo. The partner agency, TACasbl, was able to secure an anti-COVID-19 program grant; this funding enabled TACasbl to go into villages to install handwashing stations and teach people about the importance of social distancing and masks.

As the world responds to COVID-19, access to safe water and sanitations is key to saving lives. HTSCongo will continue to help these efforts.

"HTSCongo is a small operation," says Fontier, "We take care of one village at a time and when we're done, if we have the funding we go to the next village"

The vision of HTSCongo is that one day all people in the Congo will have access to sustainable clean water. For Fontier, that day cannot come soon enough, he says.

"As soon as I get the vaccine, I'm going back in," Fontier says.

During this "Giving Season," HTSCongo is raising funds so that Congolese locals can repair and maintain existing wells. It costs just $100 to keep a well going in a village, so any amount from $1 on up will substantially contribute to the health and well-being of many who are at risk. A small amount will make a big difference for people in the Congo and help save lives.

If you want to consider donating (even as a gift in someone else's name) or to learn more about the need for clean water, sanitation and hygiene in the Congo, please visit HTSCongo.com Checks should be addressed to: HTSCongo, C/O Treasurer Peter Voorheis, 7000 County Route 69, Bath, NY 14810.

HTSCongo is a 100% volunteer staffed organization and 99% of donations go to supporting WASH programs and activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You can also support HTSCongo by following on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Over the years Leon Fontier has made several trips to the Congo with the equipment, supplies and funds needed to build wells and latrines. He hires and trains locals for the construction projects, empowering them to build other wells and keep them operational.