By Mallory Corkery
He wakes up before the sun rises. He carries his bucket down the
bamboo steps and through the jungles of Thailand. After two miles
of hiking through the bush, he scoops up a full bucket of water and
He arrives at his one-room hut just in time for his mother to
start making breakfast. He will have to make this hike multiple
times today. It is part of his life.
Being a villager in the hills of Thailand is a demanding task.
Gathering water daily is not only a difficult journey, but also a
Mike Mann wanted to change that.
Mann is the son of missionary parents who served in Thailand. He
observed his mother and father working with orphanages and clinics
and he hoped to one day contribute to this country in his own
“I decided to go to Cal Poly Pomona to learn about water
engineering,” said Mann. “I thought this was a way I could help the
After graduating in 1989, Mann returned to Thailand with his
wife, Becky. He was fresh out of college and ready to use his
education in the field.
“I had everything planned my way,” said Mann. “I did the math
the way I was taught. All that went out the window the first time I
tried putting in a water system,”
The village life is much more different than the textbooks. Mann
had to learn to use the resources around him to create a water
system that could be easily installed and maintained without
If the villagers could not gather the resources from a nearby
town, then Mann did not use it. He spent months trying to perfect a
system that was right for village living and did hours of research
to gather the right tools that were local.
A villager named Insom learned about Mann’s missionary project
and quickly offered his knowledge. Insom grew up in a village and
knew what was accessible. The two became an inseparable team.
“Insom created the project the way it is now,” said Mann. “I
could have never come up with this system without him. My knowledge
only went as far as the textbook.”
Insom and Mann began their first project 19 years ago. After a
few trial and errors, they began a ministry of bringing fresh,
clean water to the doorsteps of hill tribe villagers using a simple
PVC pipe system and concrete holding tank.
After Insom died, Mann continued the project with his wife and
team of hill tribe villagers who learned about the project and
wanted to help Mann in his ministry.
The Integrated Tribal Development Program is a unique team.
Because there are different languages spoken in the village, Mann
always has someone who can translate from the hill tribe language
Soon, Mann began accepting help from churches. Teams were sent
to live one week in a village while helping ITDP install the water
system. Most of the teams come from California and some are from
Britain and Sweden.
A team from Pomona is sent every year to help Mann.
“It is a great opportunity to help others and see the difference
you made in their lives,” said David Brandon, a former Pomona team
Brandon’s favorite moment came when he witnessed a little girl
trying on her new shoes.
She had walked through some mud and it caked onto her brand new
shoes the team had given her. Almost instinctively, she walked over
to a water spigot, turned it on and rinsed off her shoe.
“A week ago, she didn’t have shoes,” said Brandon. “A week ago,
she didn’t know she would have water that accessible. Her life had
been completely transformed and she probably didn’t even know
While some team members are touched by the lives of the
villagers, others are fascinated by the installation process.
“I am an engineer. I loved seeing how Mike used resources from
around the village to create an effective system just for them,”
said Brian Carson, a Cal Poly alumnus and former team member.
Mann starts his projects by laying pipes from the water source
to the village. After the pipes are laid, the rest of the week is
spent trenching and burying them.
“Trenching was tiring and humbling,” said Carson. “I would run
out of breath after five minutes but the ladies next to me kept
Simultaneously, other team members would mix cement, cut bamboo,
lay rebar and start building bathrooms.
Sanitation is a big problem in hill tribe villages. Because
there are no bathrooms, the villagers are surrounded by human
feces. These bacteria seep into their gardens and animals they eat
are infected. Many people die just from this.
The bathrooms are simple 10-foot holes covered by a porcelain
toilet. After the toilet is used, the villagers pour water into it
and that is what flushes the toilet. This is the easiest and most
functional way of getting rid of human waste.
Building bathrooms transforms their lives and health, but so
does installing a filtration system.
“We use rocks, sand, and charcoal to filter the water,” said
Mann. “We don’t use any expensive equipment and we teach the
villagers how to replace the filter.”
Clean water is the answer to saving 3.5 million people every
year, which is bigger than ending a war, according to
After about two weeks worth of work, a filter tank, a holding
tank, water spigots and bathrooms are installed and the villagers’
lives are never the same.
“The villagers can now water their gardens, the children can now
go to school and the health within the village is greatly
improved,” said Mann.
About 12 villages a year receive a water system from Mann and
ITDP Mann never grows weary of the labor involved with the
“There is no greater satisfaction in life than helping someone
else,” said Mann. “I think I picked the right profession.”
Reach Mallory Corkery at: email@example.com
Engineering alumnus serves Thai villagers
Illustration by Justin Velasco
Engineering alumnus serves Thai villagers
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