Last fall, Vaughn resident Mark Plummer got a call from a friend in Hawaii with a request for help designing a septic system for an African orphanage. Don Burlingame, who works in Hawaii but lives in Kitsap County, was planning a trip to Kapiyo for a sanitation project, and had no luck with help in Hawaii.

Soon, the two men were not just discussing site planning but trip planning as well: Plummer had decided to join Burlingame on the journey. Plummer, a retired Tacoma firefighter, owns Earth Crafters, a Vaughn-based company that employs eight people and  specializes in site development including septic systems, excavation, and road construction. “This is like doing site development halfway across the world,” he told Burlingame, who was already envisioning much more than septic work in the future: plumbing, lighting, and a medical clinic.

“I realized he had the enthusiasm and I had the knowledge, so (I said), let’s just go,” Plummer says.

Burlingame has more than just enthusiasm. A construction company project manager, he had visited Kapiyo last summer to build the actual orphanage. Kapiyo, a town located 150 miles from the capital, Nairobi, has about 30,000 people and a third of them are orphans.

“About a year ago I walked into church one morning and the pastor said, ‘Would you go to Africa to build a school with me?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I thought he was joking,” Burlingame says.

The visit to Africa brought some startling discoveries. The villagers got their drinking water from a murky, polluted lake more than 1.2 miles away. A hole served as the sewer, and there was no electricity. After they built the school, Burlingame decided he would return to do a septic system, finish the well, and plan a medical facility on an adjacent lot.

The team includes Plummer’s son, Shane, who lives in Lakebay and works full-time for Earth Crafters after recently graduating from college. Shane has worked for his father since he was a teen. “They told me about it and my heart went out to the orphanage,” he says of his decision to go on the three-week trip.

The group will act as project managers and hire a dozen or two locals as laborers. It won’t be an easy task —everything from the cement mixing to the digging is done by hand without power tools — but the bigger challenge is working with the unknown. The men don’t really know what to expect in terms of materials and other details.

“We’ll be making things out of nothing,” Shane says. In other words, improvise.

“That’s our job, to improvise,” Mark confirms.

In addition to raising money for their airfare and living expenses, their goal is to raise $10,000 for materials, labor and other project needs. Plummer’s business is a sponsor, along with other businesses, friends and family. Burlingame hopes the work will turn into ongoing support for the village.

“The need that you see when you look at these kids is terrific — they get one meal a day (a mix of cooked ground corn, millet and sorghum), and they own nothing but the clothes on their backs,” he says. “Once you go there, your life will never be the same.”

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