As their cloudy, brown drinking water turned clear before their eyes, villagers in Sri Lanka looked at Ken Van Dyken ’04 as if he had worked a miracle. Van Dyken sees himself as an engineer, a problem solver. But he acknowledges that project brought sudden, dramatic results.
“In the space of a few hours they had clean water,” he said. “Nothing I’ve done before has had anywhere near the impact this will have to help people.”
Van Dyken works for Extol Inc. in Zeeland, Mich., a company that designs and builds industrial manufacturing equipment. Co-owners and Calvin alums Ross Van Klompenberg ex’82 and Chip Van Klompenberg ’86 had been praying for a while for a project that, in Chip’s words, “would call on the skills of Extol’s people and resources in order to relieve the affliction of orphans, widows, the fatherless and poor.”
The answer to that prayer began to unfold when the Van Klompenberg brothers were introduced to another alum, Konrad Marcus ’52, a board member of Water Missions International (WMI).
WMI is a nonprofit Christian engineering organization headquartered in Charleston, S.C., that works to supply people in developing countries and disaster areas with safe drinking water and safe wastewater management — and “an opportunity to hear the Living Water message.” Extol was drawn in by the way WMI pairs concern for bodily and spiritual thirst.
In 2004 the company began to examine the design of WMI’s Living Water filtration unit. Van Dyken was a member of that team. “The first thing,” he said, “was to develop a simpler system for chlorinating the water after it was filtered.”
Van Dyken and the team at Extol were working that problem out when the tsunami hit the Asian rim in December 2004. WMI mobilized to deliver 108 filtration units to the area. At Extol a decision was made to send Van Dyken to Sri Lanka to help with the units’ installation. “The point was to have someone from Extol get experience with the units in a real situation to see how we could make them better,” Van Dyken said.
For two weeks in April 2005 he traveled to Sri Lankan tent villages. Saltwater had contaminated their open wells, so survivors were dependent on the water in nearby ponds and streams. Each filtration unit Van Dyken and other WMI volunteers set up purifies 10,000 gallons per day, enough for 3,000 people. As relief work transitions to development work, the filtration units continue to supply water free of the pathogens that cause the deaths of 4 million children every year in the developing world.
Van Dyken returned with ideas for how the filtration units’ valves and hoses could be simplified. Its simplicity is the beauty of the Living Water Treatment System, he said, and critical in training local people to operate and maintain it.
Extol engineers have made the valve improvements, and the company continues to commit resources to WMI projects.
If the opportunity comes, Ken Van Dyken says he’d like to install more units: “I’d go again in a heartbeat.”
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