In the October half-term, Rhys Whiting from Blaenavon set out to walk to the summit of the ‘Old Man of Coniston’ in the Lake District in order to provide the rural community of Tudun Bazai in Kano, in Northern Nigeria with clean water.
In November 2019 Rhys, then aged 13, sustained 33 fractures to his right knee when a wall collapsed on him and at the time it was thought that he might have to undergo an above-knee amputation. However, following multiple operations and intensive physiotherapy a little light began to appear and by the beginning of 2021 there was a plan to remove the metalwork that had been instrumental in supporting Rhys’ leg during the healing process. Nevertheless, as the surgery approached it was anticipated that the best outcome would be a reduction in pain but little improvement in mobility.
With an eye on not wanting to miss out on the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award, Rhys spoke with his Parish Priest, Canon David Hayman, about a charitable project which might fulfil the core requirements of the DofE: specifically helping the community or environment, becoming fitter, developing new skills and planning, training and completing an expedition. After considering cancer research, sepsis and water, Rhys decided that he wanted to raise money to provide a borehole to improve the quality of life in a community whose only current source of water is a contaminated open well.
Canon David was able to put Rhys in touch with Father Alex Shukau in the Diocese of Kano, and it was agreed that the community of Tudun Bazai would be the focus of Rhys’ project. There are approximately 1500 people in the village with about 200 children attending the Church-run primary school. Initial surveys were carried out which estimated that the cost of sinking a borehole would be in the region of £2,800.
In the days leading up to Rhys’ surgery to remove the metalwork from his leg, the parish of Saint Alban’s in Pontypool prayed the Novena to Blessed Carlo Acutis for Rhys’ well-being, and they were joined in this by friends in Canada, America, the Czech Republic and Nigeria, especially the parishioners of Saint Peter’s Church in Tudun Bazai.
After surgery, Rhys has surpassed expectations and has been determined not to be ‘determined’ by the nature of the injuries he received in November 2019. He has embraced the challenge of climbing the ‘Old Man of Coniston’, a height of 803 metres above sea level, and has raised money through approaching family, friends (old and new!), and speaking at Parish Masses of his passion to help those less fortunate than himself.
Rhys’ mother says “Even though school will not accept this project as the expedition element of the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award, it has given Rhys a goal, something to aim for, and as a family we have witnessed how it has helped him to overcome very challenging circumstances. He has refused to be defeated by his experience of injury, and we are so proud of what he has achieved for others. But at the same time it has been so good for his own emotional health and well-being.”
Rhys has coordinated this project from the design of sponsor forms, to the content of his talks to the parish community, and is delighted to have currently raised almost £5,000 so that as the drills begin to turn clean water can transform the quality of life for the people of Tudun Bazai.
Father Linus Barau, Parish Priest of Tudun Bazai said, “It is a great joy for the community to know that they will soon have a borehole to supply good, clean drinking water, especially at this time when some parts of the State are suffering from an outbreak of cholera. This project is apt and timely; there is no better time than now. We are very grateful to Rhys and all who have supported him in rendering us this assistance in a time of great need. Thank you, and God bless you all!”
The sudden rise of winds at 650 metres above sea level may have thwarted our efforts to get to the summit of the Old Man of Coniston, and taken us all off our feet as they did so, including family, Canon David and Sasha the dog! But in training we did go higher than the Old Man of Coniston when we reached the summit of Corn Du in the Brecon Beacons at 873 metres above sea level. Congratulations, Rhys on a job well done!