BENTON CITY -- A young woman's desire to see the world has led to a communitywide project to build wells and provide scholarships in Tanzania, Africa.
In the past three years, members of the Benton City First United Methodist Church, a congregation of about 50, have raised money to build three wells in two villages in Tanzania.
This year, they're supplying scholarships to two young men from one of the villages to send them to a technical college in a nearby city to study computer science.
Beth Thomas Kalinga is the link between the small Eastern Washington town and the two Tanzanian villages half a world away.
She joined the Peace Corps in 2001, shortly after graduating from Washington State University. She's a native of Benton City and graduated from Kiona-Benton City High School in 1998.
"I was ready to live somewhere else, somewhere not Benton City, and my pastor at WSU encouraged me to join the Peace Corps," she said.
After determining that Kalinga was willing to live somewhere without running water or electricity, and that she could ride a bike, she was sent to a village in Tanzania.
Kalinga lived in Mtula, a village of about 900 people, for two years.
"I remember she wrote home saying the villagers really needed goats," said Pastor Ed Hamshar of First United Methodist Church. His congregation pulled together and raised enough money to purchase 50 animals for the villagers.
That was just the start of the link between the communities of Mtula and Benton City.
Clean water became the more critical need.
The women and children of Mtula and the surrounding villages spend their days hauling water for their families from streams and springs up to 10 miles away.
"It's not safe," said Beth Kalinga's husband, David, a native of Changarawe, a village of about 2,500 people near Mtula.
The couple met while she was serving her second year with the Peace Corps. They married in December 2004, when Beth Kalinga completed her third year and moved home to Benton City.
David Kalinga said the country's springs and streams can be hazardous.
"They're just as God made them with rocks and steep slopes down to the water," he said.
And the water isn't always clean. Goats, cows and other animals drink and walk through them, stirring up mud and more.
"The water has to be boiled before you can use it," Beth Kalinga said.
To do that, the women and children have to gather firewood in the surrounding forests.
"Out in the forests, the women have been attacked, raped," Hamshar said.
The well project grew out of a desire among members of the Benton City church to make a difference in the world, Hamshar said.
"It was a challenge from one of our lay leaders who said to really make a difference in people's lives, we need to provide fresh, clean, safe water to people who do not have access to it," he said.
They began talking among themselves, asking how they could help.
"That's when David said the women in his village had to walk about three miles to get water. Could we maybe drill a well there? We already had a connection to the village through his mother and sister who live in Changarawe. So we said, 'OK, let's do this,' " Hamshar said.
The church raised about $5,000 through donations and community fundraisers but discovered a well could cost as much as $20,000.
David Kalinga found a church missionary group online that had donated well drilling equipment to a contractor in Tanzania. His sister, Salome Kalinga, using her contacts, found him. The contractor agreed to drill a well in Changarawe.
"Actually, we were able to drill two wells in David's village, and another, later, in Mtula, where Beth had lived," Hamshar said.
Because there's no electricity available, the water is pumped out of the wells by hand.
The pastor estimates his small congregation raised about $12,000 to help the Tanzanian villagers.
David Kalinga recently returned to Benton City from visiting his family in Tanzania.
"The government is beginning to dig wells in that area and is bringing in electricity too -- but slowly," he said.
Hamshar's congregation has no intention of quitting their Tanzanian project.
"We're concentrating on funding the two scholarships right now, but I'm sure we'll be funding more wells in other, nearby, villages in the future.
"We're all called to make a difference in this world. Our lives matter when we utilize the gifts God has provided us. That we, as a little congregation, can really make a difference in the world continues to inspire us all," Hamshar said.