TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT) - The community of Tomah isn't very big, but the impact it's making around the world is huge. And it all started with the dreams of one 17-year-old boy.
News 8's Mike Thompson recently traveled to Uganda, Africa to get a first hand look at the lives that are being changed and will document the journey in a one-hour special on WKBT, "Tears to Water."
When Jesse Parker, of Tomah, died in 2009 in a car crash on his way home from a family vacation. his parents wanted to make sure his dreams of making a difference didn't die with him.
There are many things happening locally to honor his memory, but those efforts have now spread to the other side of the world.
At just 17 years old, Jesse Parker already knew how he wanted to make an impact in this world.
"He worried about big issues and I think that's what made him unique," said mom Jen.
He wanted to turn that passion into action, helping bring clean water to people in Africa. Jen says, "as you learn about water you learn, that it's really the foundation. Until you get someone clean water, they are going to reinfect themselves, and lots of times kids can't go to school."
And In Uganda, the need for clean water is huge. Like many parts of rural Africa, water is scarce and what they do have is often dirty and contaminated with diseases.
"People are really poor where they have to fetch water from the dirty ponds, we don't have electricity in our homes, we get food from the garden," said Sr. Salome Nnambi, the Headmistress at St. Kizito High School in Bethany, Uganda.
The need extends into the schools here as well. The children go without some of the basic tools for learning. "They don't have the school requirements. For instance, if a child comes to class without a book, without a pen, that means the child will take a day without writing," said teacher Loukwago Muhammad.
But through the generosity of so many people in the Tomah and La Crosse area, life is changing for these rural villages in Uganda.
"When you meet these people, you just want to do more," said Tomah resident Rose Berry.
She along with six other women, including Jesse's mom Jen, made the trip to Uganda in June. They brought with them Jesse's dreams for clean water and to make a difference.
"If you knew Jess, he was always about including people and lots of different people and he had this belief and you know that saying 'be the change you wish to see in the world,' that was how he lived his life. He believed not that he could make a difference, but that he should make a difference," said Jen.
You can watch this entire journey that takes us to Africa as family and friends carry on Jesse's dreams in a one hour special called "Tears to Water."
We'll follow the Parker family through the tragic loss of their son and how they were able to turn that heartache into hope for so many people around the world. It airs Monday, Aug. 11th at 6:30 p.m on WKBT.
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