Priest’s homeland to get water purifiers

Fr. Setonga

By Celine Klosterman

People living in the Tanzanian homeland of a priest staying at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City will soon have lifesaving, clean water.

Two representatives of Hays Pure Water for All Foundation left last week for Tanzania, an east African country with a population of about 41 million. There, they will teach people in 60 villages to use handheld water purification devices developed by Washington resident John Hays.

Father Mansuetus Setonga, chancellor of Tanzania’s Same Diocese and a Ph.D. student in economic development at the University of Iowa, told a representative of his home diocese about the devices. The diocesan staffer will attend one of the training sessions for the water purifier, and then train three villages to use the device, said Fr. Setonga. He learned about the water purifiers during a fall presentation at St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant. 

“Water is the most important thing in Tanzania,” he said. “When you have clean water, you will solve a lot of health problems.” Waterborne diseases such as bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever are common in the country, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.


Fr. Setonga said part of the problem is that Tanzania is often very dry, so residents turn to standing water. Hays, who has made seven trips to Tanzania, said cattle walk in and drink from the same muddy supply people bathe in, wash clothes in and drink from.

A handheld device Hays developed while superintendent for the City of Washington’s Water Department can produce enough chlorine in an hour to purify 5,000 liters of water. If run just five minutes a day, it will last 63 years, he said.

To work, the unit needs salt and 12 volts DC — which can be provided by a solar panel and battery or a motorcycle or car.

Hays said that before one Tanzanian village received the water purifier, 120 children per month contracted typhoid fever. Since the device was introduced four years ago, there have been two or three cases of the illness monthly, he said he was told.

A Protestant, he said faith motivates his work. His company’s Web site cites Matthew 25:35: “…I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” He provides the devices, which cost about $190 to produce, regardless of reimbursement.  The Newman Catholic Student Center donated funds for three units that will be used in the Same Diocese. In all, about half of the 60 water purifiers sent to Tanzania have been paid for so far through donations, Hays said.

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