PEPPERELL — Ask Pepperell resident David Gibson if he’s been blessed and he’ll tell you straight out that indeed he has been.
He’s got a good job as a chemist developing specialized glues, which allowed his family to purchase their home on Hadley Road.
Told after 10 years of trying they’d never have a biological child, David and his wife, Rebecca, adopted a son, Grant, now 5. They later conceived and became the parents of triplets Elijah, Charlotte and Benjamin, who are almost 3.
And, because they are both givers, Rebecca gave David a different sort of 40th birthday gift last spring — time.
Rebecca, a pediatric hospice nurse, said it came to her in the wee hours one morning that she could manage the family if her husband was away. So she gave him time — plenty of it.
Enough time, in fact, for a two-week trip to Uganda that allowed David to help provide clean, uncontaminated water to impoverished people as a volunteer with Lifewater International.
“I realized I could do this,” Rebecca said. “Instead of fast cars, this trip was David’s mid-life (dream). I was excited for him. It’s something he’s wanted for seven years. I don’t know why we didn’t do it pre-children. It took a wife to say go,” she said.
David came home having learned the world has “good people all over,” he said. “(In Uganda) they have nothing, but they have hope.”
Lifewater teaches people how to build a simple, inch-thick, poured-concrete bio-sandbox filter, developed in part at MIT, for use in areas that have no clean water. The volunteers work with villagers to pour the concrete, then fill the box with three levels of sand, coarse to fine.
After several weeks, organisms grow in the sand that help purify tainted water poured through it. A copper tube drains clean drinking and cooking water. One box produces 15 gallons of clean water a day, for an indefinite period.
“Everything except viruses is filtered by the sand,” David said. “Many people there don’t even boil water. We need to teach why they must.”
“There is also a design that uses PVC (plastic pipe),” he said. “We used locally available sand. It is the copper tubing that is difficult to get.”
Gibson trained at an orphanage on Lake Victoria, not far from the village of Namuzikiza, with teams of volunteers from North Uganda, Kenya and Southern Sudan.
“The area around the orphanage was lush and fenced in, with security guards present,” he said. “People eat ground maize (corn), Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice and mashed bananas. The children are the most beautiful kids. I can’t say enough about the people. They were warm and friendly.”
He said a truce between the rebels and the government had been signed while he was there and the team moved to the capital and a hotel before coming home. That was personally “embarrassing” to David after experiencing the living conditions in the outlying areas, he said.
As a Christian, David was pleased to see the location in which he worked was not far from the headwaters of the Nile River, and that one of the instructors was named Moses.
“There are a lot of Christians and a growing Muslim population. Both can exist peacefully. We all want the same things, a bright future for kids. I know it sounds (too optimistic),” David said.
“One week isn’t enough time, but with Becky alone with the kids after my sister-in-law (left, to go home), I had to come back,” he added.
Was the effort worth it?
“Absolutely,” Rebecca said. “I was there in spirit. To have my husband get his dream of helping others with water is my dream too.
“Maybe when the kids are older I can go,” she said. “My heart tug is India, David’s is Africa. We’ve been interested in this a long time. We packed two duffles full of paper, pencils, baby clothes, shoes, sandals and other things to take there.”
“I left everything I could behind,” David said. “It was a joy to do. I was born to do this.”
If and when they both can travel, Rebecca said, she’d be working on hygiene while David focuses on chemical engineering solutions.
“One of the hopes people have is that by hard work they can make things better,” David said. “They want their kids to be educated and they are willing to work for it. One way to improve a country is to get foreigners to invest.
The Gibsons feel they’ve moved to a good town. To help pay for David’s air fare, they gathered together little things to sell in a yard sale.
“People who saw the little card we put in the store window announcing our sale came to our house,” Rebecca said. “Some things we were selling for five cents, they’d give $1 or $10. People in this town are wonderful.”
His experience makes David know, with certainty, “We are blessed.”