BUTTE — There are certain moments in life that are indelibly stamped into our hearts.
Augustina Osabutey has many from her days growing up in a small community in Ghana.
Osabutey, who was born and raised in the coastal town of Axim in Ghana’s Western Region, remembers the daily journey she took to fetch water from a well to bring back to her family.
Like most girls in Axim, Osabutey had to walk several hours each day toting large buckets, which she’d fill with water from a well and haul back to her family home.
“Sometimes we would walk like 1 mile to go fetch water, and we'd carry it on our heads,” she said. “It's really, really difficult walking long distances to fetch water from these places. And then also, the water is not clean.”
Though there appears to be an abundance of water sources in Ghana, many small towns in the tropical country still don’t have access to clean drinking water and sanitation.
Osabutey, now 27 and a newly minted master’s graduate from Montana Tech’s environmental engineering department, is determined to change that.
Inspired by her family who still lives in Ghana, Osabutey recently launched a campaign, with the help of some Butte community members, to raise money to build two mechanized boreholes for the residents of Adukrom, a small rural village 35 kilometers from her hometown.
A primary school and a community shed serve Adukrom’s roughly 800 residents. There’s no bank in Adukrom, no post office, and no general store. There are no health clinics or toilet facilities. The village’s only source of water is a dilapidated, often unhygienic well.
Osabutey said her younger sisters, Adelaide and Fidelia, have been trying to help the Adukrom community get clean water as part of a project they pitched for a LifeLink Model United Nations program. The program allows Ghanaian teens to identify social and humanitarian challenges in their local communities and pitch ideas to address them. Students with winning project ideas would then receive funding, mentorship, and the opportunity to carry out their projects.
When Adelaide and Fidelia’s project did not get selected for funding, they turned to their older sister for help. The two sisters sent Osabutey videos they produced depicting the dilapidated well.
Because the well is old and has partially collapsed, Osabutey said the water can easily get exposed to surface water runoff and sewage contamination. She said residents still drink the water, even though they know it is not hygienic and people sometimes use dirty buckets to fetch water. Moreover, the structural collapse of the well and its relative isolation have also led to reports of community members, especially children, drowning when fetching water.
“I was shocked, I tell you. I was shocked that people are still having these issues because I thought by now the government should be able to do something about clean water for people,” said Osabutey. “But no, it's not done.”
After watching the videos her sisters sent, Osabutey said she couldn’t stop thinking about the water situation in Adukrom.
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“I just couldn’t let myself go without doing anything about it,” she said. “This is what inspired me to start making a difference to the critical need for water and sanitation.”
To provide Adukrom with clean water, Osabutey hopes to raise money to build two covered boreholes that residents can pump manually.
To start, Osabutey turned to her church community in Butte for help. “I showed videos of my sister’s project to some people in church, and they suggested doing a fundraiser here in Butte and then also online, through GoFundMe,” she said.
One of her biggest advocates has been Father Patrick Beretta of the St. Patrick Catholic Church and Immaculate Conception Church.
“I speak to 2,000 people every Sunday, so I have to have an audience where I can let people know what Augustina is doing, and what I'm helping her to do,” Beretta said. “And everybody knows her, and everybody loves her. So there is already this warmth that we want her to, whatever she's trying to do, to succeed.”
Beretta said members of the church community demonstrated this when they offered to help Osabutey organize a committee to oversee her fundraising efforts for the project.
“Somebody explained to Augustina that in this country, any kind of attempted fundraiser needs a certain structure for the sake of transparency so that everybody knows where the money is going,” Beretta said. “It was actually an education for her, that this is the way to do it. When you ask people to be generous, you owe it to them that you're going to give them complete transparency of how it's spent.”
Beretta said Osabutey has embraced all the help and guidance the community has given her “with wisdom and humility.”
“She’s really opened my eyes to the Ghanaian kind of culture, and it's a very joyful culture. It's a very communal culture. It's very touching," Beretta said. "If you spend any time with Augustine, you’ll get struck by the quality of her life, her radiant laugh.”
Osabutey, who calls Butte her "second home," will have to leave it for at a while — to start a Ph.D. program in Agricultural, Biosystems and Mechanical Engineering at South Dakota State University.
Nevertheless, her Butte community is helping Osabutey organize a dinner, dance and silent auction event "Bringing the heart of Butte to the world," will feature African delicacies and Ghanaian music for $10 per person.
Those who want to help but can’t attend the event can also donate through her GoFundMe page here.
“The goal is to get two (wells) for the community so that they don't have to walk long distances,” said Osabutey.
“Most importantly, we want the water to be clean.”