I remember the day I met Hilary Tesha. He came to work wearing a t-shirt that said Mount Shasta Cheerleading Squad. He didn’t know Mount Shasta was on the other side of the world or that I lived there. It felt synchronistic and magical. It made me feel like we both belonged to this mission.
Joseph, our Tanzanian director suggested Hilary could cook for the 51 men building a 260,000-liter rainwater harvesting system on the Patandi Primary school. He was motivated to help, to learn, to grow. After a few projects, Joseph gave him the official title of Chief Cook. Because Joseph’s English is a bit broken, it came out as Chef Cookie. That stuck and Hilary liked it better. I still call him that to this day.
Along the way, we learned that Hilary could read and write and was really good with numbers. So beyond cooking, he inventoried materials and tools for the rainwater harvesting projects. Hilary would watch the construction and memorize the steps. One day, we were short-staffed. Hilary jumped in and it became clear that his skill matched his memory. Today, Hilary has grown into a Project Manager. He leads teams to build water solutions for villages. He teaches children and participates in creating solutions that change the future.
There are thousands of children Hilary has helped on his journey with Save the Rain. There are thousands more he wants to help. He feels it is his duty to his country. It’s almost as if he feels like he owes a debt and this service is his repayment.
“I’ve seen people in many villages and I’ve learned all the challenges these communities face.” Hillary didn’t have to learn these challenges as he survived most of them. “When I was young, life was hard. I didn’t have clean water.” He suffered from bouts of cholera and typhoid – both water-borne diseases he contracted from drinking unsanitary water. Hillary was so sick, so often, that he stayed home from school more days than not. His parents couldn’t afford secondary school so Hilary ended his education at 14. He loved science and dreamt of being a teacher. He may not teach formally in a classroom but today he teaches some of the most important life skills kids can learn.
There were 730 days in between the day Hillary finished school and started work with Save the Rain. 730 days where he could have gotten lost like so many of his classmates who couldn’t find work at all.
“If you can’t find work you don’t have much of a future,” he says. The boys that couldn’t continue school often become men plagued by problems with alcohol. He knows these men. He’s loved people who have been killed and people who have gone to jail because of it.
Hillary knows access to safe, clean water, saves lives. In eleven years, he’s helped propel all types of people towards a better life because they got access to clean drinking water. He knows the end result so he works harder.
“Everything depends on water,” he said. “Without water, none of us make it. Not plants, animals, or humans.”
When he sees the rain clouds now, he smiles his enormous smile. This sight means that tanks will soon be full. That’s more children who don’t have to walk for water, more children who don’t have to miss school. That’s more children who are healthier and able to focus on their education. For Hillary, an education equals a future.
And that’s what he asks of the children he’s helped and those he will help in the future: To help one another. That they work together to build a better future for their country. “The next generation, the future nation, will be built by the kids I am helping now,” he said
Hilary is brave and bold and a leader beyond words. He is a cheerleader for a better future.