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Firm Donates Special Drill to Rural African Villages

Mon March 02, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

John Repasky has spent a lifetime manufacturing concrete brick and slabs from raw materials of the earth.

He mostly enjoys the building of the machinery to manufacture the product. Making paving products has been his focus for more than 40 years.

But, as Repasky believes, God put clean water to drink under the earth just like the materials and Repasky is devoting his latter days to shipping a drill over to Central Africa to pump up the water — in hopes to help poor rural village children avoid disease, even death.

Repasky, president of Hanover Architectural Products of Hanover, Pa., has combined a Christian fellowship with a drilling fellowship through Jim Hocking, the founder of Integrated Community Development International (ICDI) in the Central African Republic.

The foundation he supports, ICDI “Water Well Drilling,” is not funded by or associated with the U.S. government or any local government program, because it creates less of a local target and fewer regulations.

Two workers already have been killed while bringing quality drinking water to indigent villagers who often drink grey water, not fit for animals.

Repasky purchased a new XHP750/350 air compressor and “Gill Beetle” drill (named after the manufacturing company who designed and built it) from Volvo Construction Equipment & Services (VCES) Harrisburg a year ago and donated it directly to ICDI (see On a Mission: Finding the Right Drill, this page.)

He also supports several individuals who are on the ground in Central Africa training and working with the villagers. They also teach the people sanitation and how to build latrines.

Repasky is in the process of building a simple truck-mounted drill to send. This drill is a little more than half done.

The following is an exclusive interview Construction Equipment Guide (CEG) conducted with John Repasky and Jim Hocking, via email both from Hanover, Pa., and the Central African Republic.

CEG: Describe the foundation you support, ICDI “Water Well Drilling.” Who are they? What do they do for the people there?

Hocking: We started this work four years ago, but I have lived in the Central African Republic [CAR] most of my life. I arrived here in 1957 with my parents and grew up here growing to love this destitute country and its people.

I worked for 20 years with a mission agency here in the CAR and two of my children were born here. Then, I decided I really wanted to use my skills to meet the physical needs of this people with water, sanitation, hygiene, orphan care, AIDS education, micro-enterprise and agriculture. It is amazing how moving from one thing to another allows a village of people with no hope to come to life and change their whole outlook on life.

Our focus is first on getting drinking water to the village, as nearly 20 percent of the children in this country do not reach the age of five, simply because of water and nutrition. Those are easy things to fix. Drilling in this land-locked country is very difficult and the unstableness of the government and the unimproved roads make that even more difficult. But the smiles and genuine thankful hearts are huge rewards!

Everything from brake fluid to well casing must be shipped in. We have to transport our own fuel for well drilling from across the country, making the price of a gallon of diesel fuel nearly $9 per gallon.

CEG: Mr. Repasky, how did you hear about ICDI and how long have you been involved with them?

Repasky: I was on a mission trip to the Congo in 2006. While there, I visited some orphanages and medical facilities in the countryside and could see evidence everywhere of the great need for clean water. It was heavy on my heart, and when I returned, I contacted the owner of a local well drilling firm.

They had ceased operations 10 years ago and wanted to disperse their equipment. They had an old rig, and I managed to get them to agree to donate it for the cause. Not knowing a lot about well drillers, I thought I had a real bargain and could fix it up. I soon realized that technology had long since passed by this old truck! It would be too costly to bring it to standards.

I started studying new pieces of equipment and decided to make our own and keep it simple. We worked from some new and some donated parts. But even with a lot of effort, we could see this was going to take another six months to complete … too long of a time … especially when people are dying every day for lack of clean water.

Because of my earlier mission trip, I thought the rig that we were building would go to the Congo. But during my search for a local African group to work with, I was able to make contact with some people within [Pastor] Franklin Graham’s organization [Samaritans Purse]. One person led me to another, who led me to another, and I eventually connected with Jim Hocking and ICDI, located in the Central African Republic.

CEG: Describe the rig you are building.

Repasky: This rig was very special to me. I did not want the rig to go to a person who was drilling for profit, but someone who would drill the well and use the time with the people to spread the word of God.

When I contacted Jim [Hocking], he told me he was overwhelmed. His equipment was so old. He was praying for an answer so that he would be able to continue.

We needed an air compressor for the truck. I bought an Ingersoll Rand 750/350 air compressor from Volvo Construction Equipment & Services [VCES], in York, Pa. I met a great guy named John Mooney, salesperson for VCES, who had lots of questions about the project. He offered his services and all the people at VCES were so anxious to keep their eyes open for equipment to be used for this project.

They located a used Gill Rock Beetle Drill — in excellent shape — that fit the requirements perfectly. It needed to be 13 tons or less, to get over bridges and barges, compact in size and simple to operate. Being made in nearby Lebanon, Pa., parts were easily available.

I was frustrated how long it was taking to build something on our own, a deal was struck — purchase made — and it was going to be on its way to the Central African Republic in 30 days.

The people at VCES had gone through a training session with us and Gill Rock has also offered their services to acquaint us with the entire machine for as long as we need.

CEG: What kind of projects does ICDI do? Is this the first project you’ve been involved with them?

Hocking: ICDI does projects in each of the areas that they invest in villages. Because of high costs of shipping containers to the CAR … nearly $15,000 per container, not counting the cost of the contents, plus the high costs of vehicle repairs in the country, these are not easy projects to accomplish.

Here are a few of the projects that deal directly with the needs of the village people:

• Water well for 500 people with foot pump and maintenance training as well as sanitation training (cost $18,000). Wells range from 180 feet to 490 feet deep; widths sometimes more than 100 feet of granite rock to penetrate. We have wells drilled by this same team that are still working fine after 25 years, so these are long term investments and solutions to drinking water problems in this country.

• Latrine for schools and village training. $2,000 per latrine.

• HIV/AIDS prevention training. $500 per village.

• Radio station broadcasting at the ICDI short wave radio station covering nearly 80 percent of the population in the CAR. Running this radio station allows us to be able to get into Central African villages on a regular basis when normally we could not.

We then also move the village through agricultural training where we teach grafting, banana multiplication and nutrition garden work. These ensure better health and nutrition for the kids and also help them with some income by selling some of these products.

CEG: Describe how bad the water is, how the children live.

Hocking: Right now in this country, more than 60 percent of the population does not have clean drinking water. Actually it is probably much higher than that because there are so many hand pumps broken and not repaired because of the civil wars and insecurity.

ICDI is traveling to some of the dangerous parts of the country in order to help some of these people have the ability to save their children from dysentery and other such diseases, which are really unnecessary.

Several villages have been drinking from seep holes in the ground and the water is just something that you would not even want to wash your hands in.

CEG: How is ICDI funded?

Hocking: Most of the ICDI funding comes from individual donors and other non-profits who want to help with this need in a country where there are very few people who even know where it is.

It is off the radar screen of the U.S. government because of security issues as well as the thought that this country is just going nowhere. It is true if no one invests, then it will go nowhere, but ICDI believes that these are smart people and if we give them a chance to use their gifts and abilities, they can do what we have done in the United States. Let’s give them a chance.

CEG: How did you develop your own faith and why go to Central Africa to help?

Repasky: I am a man of faith and so is Jim [Hocking]. During my trip to the Congo, I have never seen such a hunger for God’s word. I saw such tremendous poverty and also a tremendous desire to know God.

They have nothing materialistic of this world, but they have hope for the future with God in heaven. A thirsty child may not be able to see God, but he can know God’s love through our actions. And if we truly love God, we will know what to do.

Hocking: I have worked for many years in the CAR and have watched men catch a passion for not only their physical needs but for their spiritual well being. As founder of ICDI, I believe that we need to put actions to our faith and not just share our faith but also share of our bounty with these people who have so little.

CEG: Describe your company. How long have you been in operation, what kinds of services, how many employees?

Repasky: Hanover Architectural Products has been manufacturing concrete paving bricks and slabs since 1971. We make a complete line of architectural, commercial and residential products. We employ about 100 people.

CEG: What kind of missions and projects does your company do besides this one?

Repasky: We support missionaries and pastors who serve God here in America and also internationally — Vietnam, Mexico, Uruguay and Argentina.

CEG: You purchased the equipment and donated it directly to ICDI. You prefer to donate equipment rather than money so people have tools to work with rather than spend or purchase what they think they need. Why?

Repasky: One of the reasons that I like working with Jim [Hocking] and the ICDI is because of their philosophy and mission. They feel that it is best to teach people to support themselves — not just hand them something and go away.

After they drill the well with the people and set up proper latrines, then comes the teaching knowledge of crops, harvesting, storing and selling to neighboring villages.

We like to support people who use 100 percent of our donated funds for the purpose of the cause, rather than a lot of money going to run the organization.

CEG: Describe the drill you purchased. How will it be shipped over there? What is the cost? Do you have to build a special mount for it?

Repasky: The rig will be shipped on an open deck of a cargo ship. It will not fit into a container. Because the Beetle is on tracks, we will be shipping a 20-ton trailer also separately.

It will cost $15,000 to $20,000 to ship it over. Jim [Hocking] will bring a truck to the dock and drive the trailer with the Beetle over 800 miles over rough roads and terrain to get it to the ICDI center.

CEG: Detail VCES’s part in Harrisburg? How was it working with them?

Repasky: The people at VCES in Harrisburg have been exceptional to work with. They fixed everything — any small leaks — made sure everything was right, even touched up small scratches with touch up paint.

The Beetle is like brand new. They have even come to help us with the rig we are building. They have given advice on the design of the hydraulic system and the valving and made other suggestions.

CEG: You plan to go with Kevin, one of your sons, and Sonny, a friend and mechanic, to drill wells in the near future. When? What are your goals?

Repasky: We hope to be there around August or September of 2009 — just past the long rainy season. We want to see the well rig in action and help anywhere we can.

Sonny is a top mechanic and has greatly contributed to the construction of the rig that we are building. Kevin is active in our company, but also is getting his degree in Biblical studies. He will enjoy working with the people.

Hocking: I hope they are coming to CAR this year and as soon as we get into another country I want them there. It would be neat if we could open up another of the hurting countries of the continent of Africa every two to three years.

CEG: Do you have anything to say to potential supporters in the field?

Repasky: I would be willing to make this promise … If I could find 75 people who would each donate $200, I would guarantee to those donors that 100 percent of their money would be used for the drilling of a well — not used for overhead, salaries, travel expenses — to be only used for the expenses for the actual well being drilled. This would represent $15,000 or about two-thirds of the cost of one well.

I would travel at my own expense along with a pastor and personally oversee the drilling of the well. I would commit that 100 percent of the donated funds would go to supply water to a village for a lifetime. I would take photos and send these to the donors. They could see the results of the real people receiving this benefit.

If you are interested in making a donation, your contributions can be made payable to: ICDI. Please be sure to include a note on their check: “well drilling project.” Include an email address so that I can send them pictures of the well, the people and the water! Mail to: ICDI/P.O. Box 247/Winona Lake, IN 46590.

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