BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Colleen Burroughs was worried about the people of Malawi long before Madonna created an international sensation by adopting a child from the African nation.
The daughter of Baptist missionaries from Alabama, Burroughs was born in Malawi and grew up listening to hippos rumbling past her bedroom window. A year ago, she was stunned to see a news report about a terrible drought ravaging the country, where as many as 5 million are at risk of starvation.
Turning her tears to action, Burroughs started a nonprofit organization called Watering Malawi to raise money for irrigating the country. Teenage summer campers, churches and other groups have since donated more than $150,000 to be used mainly for buying and installing hand pumps that will draw water from wells drilled deep into the Earth.
Burroughs now lives in Alabama, and she doesn't have anything to do with Madonna's campaign to help the nation's estimated 1 million orphans.
But the pop singer's adoption of a 14-month-old boy from Malawi created a stir, and Burroughs will take any attention she can get for her friends there.
"If the controversy surrounding Madonna helps build awareness about Malawi, bring it on," said Burroughs. "It's great for that one kid who's going to have somebody take care of him. But there's a million more right behind him."
A nation of 12 million, Malawi is located in southeastern Africa. Most people live in villages, and jobs are scarce so the majority survive through subsistence farming.
Suffering through its fourth major drought in a decade, Malawi is facing food shortages because of a lack of irrigation, and people don't have enough water to drink. On top of everything else, AIDS and HIV have killed millions, leaving villages full of orphans.
The U.S. Agency for International Development budgeted $30.3 million in economic aid for Malawi this year, but that was actually a little less than the year before. So groups like Watering Malawi are stepping in to fill the void.
The organization is working through the Christian humanitarian group World Vision. For $6,000, World Vision can install a pump in a village and teach people to use it, maintain it and water their gardens with it.
"And that can save 1,000 people," she said.
For far less money, just $200, relief workers can provide villagers with treadle pumps that can be used to provide water solely for irrigation. There is surface and ground water in Malawi, Burroughs said; it's getting it to the people and crops that's a problem.
Of the $150,000 raised so far by Watering Malawi, about $60,000 was donated last summer by young people attending Christian mission camps operated by the Birmingham-based Passport Camps Inc., which Burroughs and her husband David started 15 years ago while still in seminary.
Thousands more was given by denominational organizations and congregations like Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where youth sold water and asked members to donate $1 for every shower they took or load of clothes they washed.
At Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Va., youth pastor Todd Higginson said youth and adults combined to raise more than $6,100 for the project, which "gripped the whole congregation" after members learned of the suffering caused by years of drought and illness in Malawi.
"When they saw how it was impacting people they were amazed because they haven't had that exposure to poverty in developing countries," he said. "The location didn't matter. They wanted to do something to help people."
While Burroughs plans to visit Malawi in 2007 to see the progress being made with wells, she said it's not practical for most Americans to travel to the nation, install a well and come back home. The people of Malawi can help themselves, she said, they just need a hand.
"My hope is that this is about a long-term solution. You can throw bags of food at people, but they'll still be hungry next year," said Burroughs.
On the Net: http://www.wateringmalawi.org
© 2006 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.