RANTOUL — When Carl Burkybile first traveled to Kenya some 15 years ago, he expected to enter the "WABAC machine" to be taken to a different era. But he was surprised how "way back" it was.
"It was definitely a step back in time," Burkybile said. "I expected it to be, but not to the extent it was. Most people where we go don't have electricity or indoor plumbing."
They also don't know how to prevent disease, adequately grow crops or deal with a lack of clean water. Two groups with which Burkybile, who is a former longtime Rantoul Township High School agriculture teacher, is affiliated are working to reverse those problems.
Burkybile helped form Caring for Kenya in 1995 and is also part of Healing Hands International.
His work with the former group began after he met an airman from Kenya who was stationed at Chanute Air Force Base — Erastus Kavuti.
"He became a Christian at Lackland Air Force Base and then he was here for nine months and decided he wanted to go back and (help) his people," Burkybile said.
Caring for Kenya, a faith-based humanitarian organization whose motto is "Helping people help themselves," started as a result of Kavuti's desire to help.
Caring for Kenya helps people there secure clean water and learn to grow crops, and the group provides medical assistance.
In January, Burkybile also became director of agriculture for Healing Hands International, an organization that works around the globe. Last month, he conducted ag workshops in Mexico, and he left June 20 on another trip to Kenya. In August, he will be in Zambia, Swaziland and South Africa, and in September he will make a trip to the Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico.
Burkybile, now of Urbana, taught agriculture at RTHS for 26 years and for two years at Paxton High School. Now 65, Burkybile retired from teaching in 2002.
He said Caring for Kenya and Healing Hands have similar missions.
"My work for Caring for Kenya has been strictly volunteer, unpaid, pay-your-own-expenses," he said. "Healing Hands, when I travel, they pay my expenses and I get some salary from them.
"In Caring for Kenya, we share God's love through agriculture, education, health care, water and community development. We meet physical needs, and that creates opportunities to meet spiritual needs," Burkybile said, adding that he has seen response to the Gospel as a result of the work.
Ten congregations have sprung up in the area where Caring for Kenya volunteers travel, which is 90 miles east of Nairobi.
"There's more than 300 Christians, and there are others who attend. We've trained 14 preachers," Burkybile said.
Caring for Kenya offers a mobile medical clinic that has treated more than 5,500 people for little or no cost. The group also operates a stationary medical clinic. Eighty-five secondary school students attend school, paid for from contributions provided by American families in 23 states.
Many of those contributing funds for education are people formerly stationed at Chanute.
"They left for other parts of the world and produced sort of a network," Burkybile said.
Caring for Kenya has also been involved in the drilling of four deep wells to aid about 10,000 people. It has also transported 145 water filters to Kenya at a cost of $50 apiece. The filters remove 99.9 percent of the bacteria and the parasites and will filter a million gallons of water.
"There will be another hundred of those filters when we go on the trip" that started June 20, he said.
Kenya suffers from a lack of rain during much of the year. In one part of eastern Kenya it has not rained for three years, Burkybile said. From 2006 to 2009 and again in 2011, Caring for Kenya has provided families with relief. More than $35,000 was raised to buy food, fund the food-for-work program and teach survival gardening and the use of drip irrigation.
"We teach them how to raise more food in the dry season using composting," he said, "by using raised planting beds, drip irrigation and mulching.
"With a $15 drip kit investment and a raised bed, you can raise 100 plants."
By using 5 gallons of water in the morning and another 5 gallons in the evening, the people can raise enough vegetables to feed a family of five during the dry season.
Burkybile said water is a precious commodity in Kenya. Depending on which source you turn to, the average American uses up to 150 gallons of water a day — almost four times what the average Brit uses. Burkybile wonders how many gallons Americans would use if they had to walk several miles to get it and then carry it home like most Kenyans do.
"I've got pictures of people who will walk 12 miles or more to get water during the dry season," he said.
One of those people, a woman known as Juliana, is one of the lucky ones. She has to walk only about 2.4 miles one way to get water. She borrows her neighbor's donkey and walks to the Mathoma Reservoir to get four 20-liter jaracans of dirty water every day. The water is used for cooking, drinking and laundry.
Burkybile's wife, Ruth Ann, who has accompanied her husband on trips to Kenya, said when someone made an offer to help Juliana load the 20-liter containers on the donkey, Juliana politely refused.
"Let me do it," she said. "The donkey kicks."
In addition to the containers on the donkey, she carries another on her back.
Carl Burkybile said the drought is causing the reservoir to dry up. As the water level diminishes, the water seems to get dirtier. The water is rife with bacteria and parasites.
One of the goals of Caring for Kenya is to help Kenyans learn how to preserve some of their water from the rainy season through rainwater harvesting.
The organization has also trained a Kenyan community development director who has, in turn, trained people to form cooperatives for such tasks as sewing, soap making, livestock and rabbit keeping.
"They learn how to raise rabbits and build their own rabbit cage, and we provide them with a bred rabbit and the first bag of rabbit feed," Burkybile said. "We also start people with broiler chickens, laying hens and milk goats."
Burkybile, who went on the first trip to Kenya with another volunteer, Bill Jordan, said it wasn't difficult to convince the Kenyan people to accept help.
"The people were very receptive," Burkybile said. "I tell people when they make that trip, it will change your life. When you see how little these people have and how poor they are, and they're happy.
"It reinforces that happiness doesn't come from having things. It causes you to reflect on what is important.
"When you first get there you do a lot of looking and listening and standing with your mouth open, slow to speak, and walk away saying there are so many issues and so many problems, it's overwhelming. So we needed to prioritize. We have this saying, 'You help one person at a time, one village at a time.'"
Chris Gingles, vice president of Healing Hands International, said Burkybile runs the organization's agriculture program and conducts workshops in several countries — workshops ranging from food security and food preservation to drip irrigation.
"It's really been very exciting to see the students become the teachers," Gingles said. "It is very, very rewarding to hear people say, 'You changed my life. You made all the difference to myself and my family.'"