UVA Electrician Drills a Well in His Kenyan Hometown

July 13, 2022
A drop of water on a field of wavy blue lines

Illustration by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications

Peter Chege has a vision. Born in a rural Kenyan village, he wants to bring that village into the modern world. With the help of some friends, he may do it.

Chege, who graduated from the apprenticeship program at the University of Virginia’s Division of Facilities Management and who has since worked at the University as an electrician, is a happy man who favors brightly colored shirts and smiles as he talks in enthusiastic bursts. He says he is on a mission from God to improve his life and the lives of the people in his village.

Chege’s family lives in Mahianyu Village, in Nyahururu township, Laikipia County, Kenya, where the bulk of the residents are peasant farmers who lack electricity. Chege has given his village a well to provide clean drinking water.

“The only advantage they have is that they own the piece of land that they sit on, unless they are watching the land for someone else,” Chege said. “I would say 80% of the people live on their own land. My dad is such a case; he owns his land.”

Bringing water to that dry land has been a mission for Chege – one in which he needed the support of friends like G. Raye Jones. Jones, a local lawyer and a double-Hoo well-known for his charitable work, visited the village in 2010 and again in 2012.

“We walked into the village and the poverty was overwhelming,” Jones said. “I thought ‘Why hadn’t anyone told me before?’ Anyone who walked into that village and walked out the same person, their heart is not beating.”

Peter Chege wears a hard hat and stands with his arms folded
Peter Chege left Kenya and came to the United States, where he became an electrician and a pastor. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Chege and Jones met about 15 years ago, and Jones helped Chege start the Africa Lighthouse Baptist Temple, where the two serve as co-pastors. Jones was planning a mission to Mexico when Chege suggested they go instead to Africa.

At the village, Jones saw women carrying buckets of water on sticks across their shoulders, making a roughly three-mile round trip to get muddy water from a dammed stream, a dam left over from the British colonial era.

Together, Chege and Jones created the Myrtle Clary Jones Charitable Trust, named after Jones’ mother. The trust bought land in the village. Chege has drilled a well on this land and envisions surrounding it with a school, church and community education center.

“The first urgent need was a to drill a bore hole,” Chege said. “Because when January comes over there, it is the driest month of the year. January, February, March, it is the dry season. It is always expected to be in a drought. The streams are dry; that is why the farmers are preparing their land, awaiting the timely coming of the rains in April, if they come. This year, they have failed miserably.”

Chege said the drillers went more than 700 hundred feet into the ground to hit water. The well was then fitted with a solar-powered pump, since the village has no electricity. The well produces about 30 gallons a minute of good water.

“Now we give about 500 families water,” Chege said, a grin splitting his face. “We have at least 100 families that come every day to get water, and when [the weather] dries out the lines are longer. We have two 10,000-liter storage tanks. We have to stop until the tanks fill again, because solar can only work so much.”

A woman talks with her palms pressed together
Peter Chege’s mother, Jane Njeri Njoronge, prays in her Kenyan village. (Contributed photo)

“Mr. Jones is the best friend I have ever had,” Chege said. “He spearheaded the funding of the borehole construction and equipping last year. He has made the matching donation of $50,000 to fund the church and education center in my village.”

The Myrtle Clary Jones Charitable Trust relies on donations and at the same time supports several projects in the village.

“The funds support a group of 150 orphans, 45 children with disabilities, and 40 widows,” Chege said. “We also support 12 Kenyan pastors who do the work of the church, planting and training the next generation of leaders. For this need, we have approximately $2,000 that the foundation raises monthly.”

Completing a building to house the school and community center will cost about $300,000. Chege said Jones has already pledged $50,000 as a matching donation. He said the building will be completed in three phases, eventually encompassing 12,000 square feet for offices and education.

The school will house 450 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, with an average of 30 students in each class.

“We would also use the classes for vocational training courses during school off months,” Chege said. “This facility will also be the Africa headquarters of Operation Go International [a program to train ministers in developing nations]. The focus would be training community and church leaders to transverse across culture and continent establishing Bible-preaching churches across Africa.

“We have built the first round and they are getting ready to pour the slab and when we finish that up, it will be a place to be occupied for offices and meetings on Sunday and in the week,” Chege said. “And we see what happens, and we need to build the second floor to have the school. All the money goes directly to the people, the project and the specific need. Nobody in the USA draws any salary or other financial benefit from the funds given.”

Chege said that people have been generous so far.

“God touched people’s hearts here in America,” Chege said. “All of this money, not a single cent has come from Kenya other than food the local residents might have given the laborers. The well was drilled with about $50,000” in U.S. funds.

“Peter Chege has a generous heart and a lot of confidence,” Jones said of his friend’s plans for his village.

Two plastic cylinders under a metal panel, on top of metal scaffolding
Water storage tanks and the solar panels that power the pump at the well in Peter Chege’s village. (Contributed photo)

While the project relies upon charity now, Chege wants to build a water-bottling plant that he hopes might generate a profit. Chege estimated the plant would cost about $200,000 and create at least 20 permanent jobs.

“It will be very costly, but in the long run it will help,” he said. “The whole project can be self-supporting because we can bottle the water, we can market it in the stalls in the supermarket in the community. It has been done before. It requires a lot of paperwork with the government. We have to go to the Kenya Bureau of Standards to get our water quality tested and get a label and a seal, but I do hope to do that.”

The third phase of the project will include dormitories and staff quarters for a four-year college offering certificates and degrees in various fields.

Chege, who also has earned a degree from the UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, wants to build a trade school to provide opportunity to the youth of his village.

“If only someone had taught me electrical in Kenya, I would have come here and had an even better start on life,” Chege said. “I want to have a vocational training institute where we teach people skills such as carpentry, automotive repair, electrical, plumbing. We can give them skills that no one can ever take away from them.”

He said many Kenyans come to the United States, but they also go to the Middle East to work in countries such as Qatar and Dubai.

A man in a suit and tie fills a mug with water from a hose bib
Pastor Onesmus Kibira draws a cup from the well Peter Chege had drilled in the village. (Contributed photo)

“But many go there without skills and, if we give them skills, they will be able to support themselves and their families and others could start small-scale businesses,” he said.

Chege is working on getting a tax-exempt status for the charity from the Kenyan government.

“The last visit, I took a group of people from America, including two ladies who had never been to Africa,” he said. “We took 25 containers of sewing machines, clothing, women’s hygiene products, toothbrushes, clothes, soccer balls, and when we arrived at the airport, they wanted to charge us tax for every item.”

He has also purchased an industrial sewing machine for the village and he is looking for school supplies and filing cabinets.

“Here in America, I go to the thrift and surplus stores and that is a gold mine, and I want to take some of this gold to my property in Africa,” Chege said. “I can’t touch all of these lives, but I can touch one village. And those are the plans I am working on. Big plans. And maybe someday I can retire there and see some of the fruits of my labor.”

Two men in suits look solemnly at the camera
Peter Chege’s father, Francis Chege, standing with Pastor G. Raye Jones. (Contributed photo)

Chege is continuing a Facilities Management, and UVA, tradition of community engagement.

“Facilities Management is extremely proud of our many employees who offer time and expertise to their communities, including large groups supporting local initiatives like Camp Holiday Trails and Building Goodness as well as individual involvement with a wide range of civic organizations, nonprofits, and boards and commissions,” said Roland Zumbrunn, director of operations at Facilities Management.

“Peter Chege is a great example of a Facilities Management employee who is deeply engaged in his community, which in his case extends to accomplishing amazing things in his home country of Kenya,” Zumbrunn said. “Peter’s enthusiasm and desire to grow served him well throughout his electrical apprenticeship, and now he’s using the same project management skills and leadership he has demonstrated as a project coordinator in our Automation Services team to make a huge impact outside of work. All of us in leadership are grateful to work with such humble, talented and giving individuals.”

Chege says even though America has problems, it has given him chances to succeed.

“There is nothing you can’t do in this country, he said. “There are opportunities. Opportunities abound everywhere. And I would like to do what I can to make my village better.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications