Soon-to-be-Catholic brings Kenya the gift of clean water

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

Jeremy Gulley takes a selfie with schoolchildren from the HIP Academy that reside in the Mount Elgon region of Kenya near the Ugandan border. Gulley and his wife Beth have donated several water filters to the school to ensure clean water.

PAOLA — Many folks, when they think of Kansas, think Dorothy of “The Wizard of Oz.” 

But to people living in rural Kenya, Kansas brings to mind someone else entirely: Jeremy Gulley and his water filters.

While most people will be recovering from New Year’s Eve celebrations, Gulley will be making his way to the rural hamlet of Kimilili in western Kenya, near the Uganda border.

Foreign adventures are no big deal for Gulley, his wife Beth, and their children. He and his wife lived in China from 2016 to 2017, where they taught education at the Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xi’an.

Today, the Gulleys call Spring Hill home, and attend Holy Trinity Parish in Paola. They are taking RCIA classes in preparation to enter the Catholic Church.

Until recently, Jeremy taught English, philosophy and literature at Neosho County Community College. Beth currently teaches English and literature at Johnson County Community College.

Jeremy Gulley actually started down his road to Kenya years ago, while he was a graduate teaching assistant seeking his doctorate at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. 

There, he met Ben Honeycutt, also a student. When he was a high school senior, Honeycutt had been encouraged by a teacher to “create a legacy that will pass down to the senior classes that follow.” 

Honeycutt had then continued to work on the project at KU, which he called Open World Cause. 

Today, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization sponsors projects in a handful of countries to improve the lives of people.

“Fast forward to 2018,” said Gulley. “I had the opportunity, from talking to Ben, to do follow-up work with a school in Kimilili, Kenya.”

In May of this year, Jeremy and Beth took their family to Kimilili to deliver water filters and celebrate the opening of new classrooms, plus do some assessments of the school’s English language program.

Both of those things — new water filters and new classrooms — are a really big deal in Kenya. This is so for two reasons.

First, public education in Kenya is woefully inadequate. Public schools have few resources and a high student-to-teacher ratio. Private schools, like the HIP Academy in Kimilili, offer less crowded classrooms, use of technology like Skype, and provide religious and world-oriented instruction.

Second, the region has a severe water problem that results in debilitating illnesses.

“The water there is really, really bad,” said Gulley. “Kids were not going to school because they had illnesses caused by the water. Where the school is located, outside of Kimilili, there is no running water or indoor plumbing. Electricity goes out regularly. Water for drinking, cooking and bathing comes from a spring or rainwater, so the contaminants get in and cause some pretty brutal illnesses, diarrhea and vomiting.”

The Kenyans even warned the Gulleys not to venture about without shoes because of the danger of catching a disease simply by walking around.

On their spring trip, the Gulleys took 50 filters. One filter provides safe, clean water to a family of five for one year. 

This coming January, Jeremy and Beth will take another 50 filters. Jeremy will stay for a month, while Beth returns to Kansas.

The desire to do good is part of why the Gulleys are going to Kenya, but their growing Catholic faith has also played a role.

“After I left my teaching position, I went to Mass at Holy Trinity every morning . . .  and was there every Sunday,” said Gulley. “And I started reading Father Henri Nouwen every day and really reading my Bible, because I thought God was telling me to do something.

“When I went to Kimilili in May, I had no idea I’d be going back. I thought it was an interesting trip. 

“Through attending Mass, listening to [pastor] Father Pete O’Sullivan, reading Henri Nouwen and the Bible, God said ‘Go back for this part of your life at least; this is what I want you to do’.” 

Jeremy has received financial help from the Knights of Columbus and the Altar Society of Holy Trinity Parish. But he also wrote a small book, entitled “Letters to God,” that he offers to people who make a donation to his project.

“Letters to God” reproduces letters from the young students at HIP Academy, who ask for things to improve their lives: a school bus that won’t break down, shoes to wear to school, a cow, food, a kitchen for the school, and so on.For information about his trip to Kenya, contact Gulley online at: jeremy mgulley@gmail.com.

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