Economics instructor leads clean water effort

Eastfield economics instructor Willie Kamara organized the run to help build water wells in his water insecure areas of his home country, Sierra Leone.

CARMEN GUZMAN, Editor in Chief

Bundled-up joggers ran along Audubon Park’s 5K trail, their appearances were masked by layers of scarves and hoodies, puffs of breath breaking past the cloth. Running among them, wearing a smile brighter than his yellow vest with visibility strips, was Eastfield economics instructor Willie Kim Kamara.

“The water [West Africans] are drinking is not good quality,” Kamara said to his fellow runners, explaining that their participation helps combat water insecurity in West Arica.

Eleven years ago, Kamara helped found the Running 4 Clean Water fundraiser for building wells in West Africa. The proceeds finance missionaries working for Seven Hills Global Outreach, which has built 24 water wells in West Africa since 2012.

“The community came through,” Kamara said. “There was a lot of runners, so I’m very happy.”

Kamara became the fundraiser’s director and oversaw the annual 5K run for the this year raising over $12,000.

Even with cooler temperatures nipping the runners, several took to the park’s trail for the run’s cause.

“We are called to take care of God’s people,” Kamara said. “Wherever I see the opportunity to serve, I am more than happy to.”

As a devout Methodist, Kamara holds spiritual conviction to help those suffering from water insecurity. He grew up in Sierra Leone, a West African country where nearly 40% of its citizens lack access to clean drinking water, according to a 2016 Aquastat report.

“I see the water people drunk in West Africa – it has so much dirt,” Kamara said. “When people drink that water…it’ll go and mess up their digestive system.”

Water-borne diseases like cholera and dysentery were commonplace in areas without reliable access to water. In Kamara’s area, locals often succumbed to deadly infections lurking in contaminated water.

Kamara moved to the U.S. after civil war tore through his nation in the 90s, but kept his focus on improving conditions throughout West Africa.

“He became a U.S. citizen and works incredibly hard, but has never forgotten where he came from,” said Dr. David Jordan, president of Seven Hills Global Outreach.

Jordan and Kamara have rallied seven Methodist churches in Garland to raise money and awareness for the run since its conception.

“Like many people, [Kamara] was caught up in a degree of economic distress,” Jordan said. “There was an 11-year civil war …He’s quite an amazing individual that literally packed up his entire life.”

Wells are the focus, but the donations also go to building infrastructure, such as schools and libraries.

Building vital infrastructure lowers mortality and malnutrition rates, according to Jordan. As a doctor who travels with missionaries, he’s no stranger to the region.

“We must love our neighbors across the Atlantic, the Pacific, not just the neighbor who is next door,” Kamara said.

Kamara emphasizes building water wells in discussions with his community and classroom. He said the water wells built by Seven Hills missionaries have reduced child mortality in local villages by 80%.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the people in Garland are helping save hundreds of lives each year by their efforts,” Jordan said.

In visits to villages with clean water access, Jordan has seen locals getting an education in the time they previously spent ferrying water from distant watering holes.

During one of Jordan’s visits, a villager asked him about the donors. The villager haven’t heard of Texas, but was surprised they were being helped by people across the globe.

Under Kamara’s first year of leadership, the annual run garnered around 20 sponsors.

“For the folks in Texas, it’s a run, but that translates into giving water for children and women,” Jordan said.

Running 4 Clean Water’s total donations tallied up to $145,000 this year.

“It’s a great event to help people in that country,” said Laura Watkins, who participated in the run with her husband, Ron.

They’ve been donors since the run began, learning about it through their church.

“[Kamara] is a member of our church and a great, great human being,” Ron Watkins said.

Kamara is part of First United Methodist Church in Garland, which initially led the fundraiser and the coalition of local Methodist churches.

In his 11 years of being part of the fundraiser’s leadership, Kamara’s passion for the cause has never wavered.

“It will be better next year … Every year we want to see more,” Kamara said.  “I look forward to more runs in the future.”

Kamara hopes Dallas College would sponsor and market the event in the future.

“The result of this event goes towards helping the people of God in West Africa,” Kamara said. “We are expanding and I love that.”

While the amount of money raised pleases Kamara, what keeps him tied to the run is the sense of community – and how it connects to his home country.

“When I see everybody coming towards the finish line, they cheer up,” Kamara said. “That makes me happy.”