"You can't solve all the problems, but you can help the people you can help."
URBANA — Carl Burkybile understands it can feel almost paralyzing to come face-to-face with overwhelming human need.
But he hasn't let that stop him from teaching poor farmers in Africa how to grow food and from helping bring clean water to people who would otherwise be making an all-day journey for it on foot.
"You can't solve all the problems, but you can help the people you can help," he says.
A 67-year-old retired agriculture teacher, Burkybile will be honored by the cities of Champaign and Urbana next month with this year's Humanitarian Relief Award.
He has been the director of a Christian humanitarian organization called Caring for Kenya for 17 years, and for the past three years has also been the director of agriculture for another faith-based humanitarian organization, Healing Hands International.
Just one of Caring for Kenya's initiatives has been the drilling of water wells and clean water distribution in areas where people, mostly women and children, would make an all-day trip out of the area on foot for water and carry it back home, Burkybile says.
"Kids will literally drop out of school to walk for water," he says.
Caring for Kenya worked with Healing Hands International, Rotary International and nine rotary clubs on a $116,000 project to bring three more deep wells and a water distribution system to an eastern Kenyan town.
Burkybile says he is already working on the next well project that will serve three more communities in desperate need of water.
In areas where well projects haven't been possible, Burkybile says families are provided filters that remove most of the bacteria and parasites, though this is a temporary solution and there aren't enough filters to provide for all families.
Burkybile grew up on a farm near Casey, and originally combined his parents' professions when he became an agriculture teacher. Dad was a farmer, Mom a teacher. He worked in Armstrong, Paxton and Rantoul schools for 32 years.
He met his wife of 45 years, Ruth Ann, in high school and got his bachelor's and master's degrees in agriculture education from the University of Illinois.
Kenya became an active part of Burkybile's life when Erastus Kavuti, a member of the Kenyan Air Force, came to the U.S. for training and ended up at the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul for nine months. The Burkybiles, who were living in Rantoul at the time, got to know him through their church.
Caring for Kenya was formed in 1995 to support Kavuti through preacher training school when Kavuti wanted to return home to his native village of Tulia as a missionary.
Burkybile made his own first trip to Kenya in 1997 while he was still grieving the loss of his son, John, who had recently been killed in a car accident.
"A lot of what my wife and I do, we do in his memory," he says.
Along with water projects, Caring for Kenya also started a mobile medical clinic, funded a preacher training program for 12 men and forms self-help cooperative groups to teach people such things as sewing, soap-making and raising goats and rabbits.
Burkybile travels to Kenya and other countries to teach struggling farmers what he calls survival agriculture or survival gardening, with the use of composting, raised planting beds, drip irrigation and mulching. He's also brought his instruction to five states in the U.S., teaching community and back yard gardeners and people embarking on mission trips, he says.
Burkybile has made more than 20 trips to Africa, Mexico, Honduras and Haiti for his humanitarian work. He sees the work as giving back all that's been given to him.
"From the first time I've traveled, it's made me realize how blessed I am," he says.
5 more things to know about Carl Burkybile
— He's an elder for his church, Philo Road Church of Christ.
— He has also done home remodeling work as a side job.
— He and his wife have four grandchildren.
— Twins run in his family. His two surviving children are twin daughters, and both his parents were born into sets of twins. (Not only that, there was a double wedding ceremony for his dad and dad's twin brother and mom and mom's twin sister.)
— He joined the Champaign Rotary Club in 2012, getting involved by speaking to Rotary clubs about Kenya. He was the Champaign new Rotarian of the year in 2013, and is 2014 District Rotarian of the year.