- Caitlin von Gaertner
Ben Yundt's earliest childhood memories won't fade easily. Now a seventh-grader at Bend's Pacific Crest Middle School, Ben vividly recalls his days growing up at an orphanage in the West African city of Accra in Ghana. Before his time there, he lived on the streets of Accra. Not surprisingly, Ben's childhood lacked life's basic necessities—including one about which most of us in Central Oregon rarely think: clean water.
"We'd use dirty water to wash our dishes and then we'd use the dishes to eat—and some kids got sick from that," he recalls. "It was not fun. Sometimes our water would get infected with dirty bacteria stuff. In the orphanage, there was a sink that sometimes had good water in it, and then there was a well out in the back that had infected water."
Sometimes Ben was charged with transporting clean water—which he and the other children had to carry on their heads.
"It was painful," Ben recalls.
Thankfully, for Ben at least, those days are over. A Bend couple, Dr. Kent Yundt and his wife Annette, adopted Ben from the orphanage almost five years ago. Still, Ben's thoughts remain with those children still suffering halfway around the world. He hasn't forgotten them or their plight. So, instead of simply moving on, he decided to do something about it.
Ben, under the guidance of his teacher, Carole Nase, set out to help by devising a school project. "We made a poster and we made bracelets and we sold them for $3 so we could give money to a company that makes a 'safe water station.' It makes good water for poor places in Ghana that don't have safe water." That company is the Safe Water Network, which works with communities in both Ghana and India to develop locally owned and managed Safe Water Stations. According to Safe Water Network, over 10 million people in Ghana lack access to safe water.
Ben also created a short presentation which he delivers to classes in order to further illustrate the terrible dilemma that children in Ghana still face. "Hello. My name is Ben Yundt," he begins. "Today I'm going to be sharing my story and telling you what is happening in Ghana with water. Did you know that 4,000 children under the age of five die each year from bad water in Ghana? I think we should help these kids have safe water."
He ends with a plea: "Buy a bracelet so you can change kids' lives. Together we can do more."
"I'm very proud of him," says his adoptive mother, Annette. "Mrs. Nase called us and told us that Ben, through doing a research project, found out about Safe Water Network. He also found out that they were actually building wells—and one of the places they were building them is in Ghana, where he's from. That kind of led to doing more research, and they talked about how they could help, and so it led from there."
Though he's only 12, Ben already has a long history of helping others. "One of the things we fell in love with [about Ben] at the orphanage was that he was the protector of all the little kids. There was a 16-year-old autistic blind boy there and Ben took it upon himself to be his leader. He would lead him around and make sure that he was safe and that he was where he was needed to be in the orphanage."
"He's kind of always been a protector," recalls Annette.
For more information on how to donate to Ben's cause, please visit safewaternetwork.org.