The ‘God of small surprises’ weaves a powerful CAFOD web, bringing power to the powerless

As members of the CAFOD family, we are often surprised how we make connections across the country and internationally. This was the case for an new group of CAFOD volunteers in the parish ‘The Good Sheperd’, in Colne – which is comprised of three churches : ‘Sacred Heart’ in Colne, ‘Holy Saviour’ in Nelson and ‘St Peter’s and St Paul’ in Barrowford. In April they began a journey that would take them to Embu, in Kenya’, on a mission to bring power to the powerless, helping rural communities gain access to sustainable, renewable energy. Fr Chris Gorton, Parish Priest of ‘The Good Sheperd’, committed the parish to the project from the very beginning. Five months down the line his passion for the project is undimmed and it radiates through his reflection :


Fr Chris Gorton, Parish Priest of ‘The Good Sheperd’, Pendle

 ‘It isn’t often that we literally have the opportunity to save people’s live and help them build for the future in such a direct way, linking different parts of the world through faith! I hope and pray that with God’s blessing we will make the most of this unique opportunity, remembering the parable of the sheep and goats and responding to need in the best way we can, in a sustainable way, for our brothers and sisters in Christ.’


Steve Burrowes ( CAFOD Salford ), Ged Heffernan, Fr Antony, Margaret Ward ( CAFOD volunteer ) and Michael Taylor ( CAFOD volunteer ) after mass, following a presentation to the parish about River Power Pod

The communities of Lancashire first became intertwined with those in Kenya when I visited the parish to recruit parish volunteers.


Sr Eleanor Gibson ( FMA ), Steve Burrowes ( CAFOD ) and Sr Lucy Wegoki after arriving in Dagoretti, Nairobi  at the end of our 4 day Tanken2016 bike ride, through parts Tanzania and KenyaEnter a caption

Before joining CAFOD I had developed the Observer Ethical Award-winning project Mama Margaret’s at Thornleigh Salesian College– a project that saw Thornleigh students selling crafts made by women in Nairobi slums . The kinship that developed between the school community and the Salesian Sisters, particularly Sister Eleanor Gibson and Sister Lucy Wegoki, drew me closer and closer to working in development.


Although I loved teaching, and had been in the profession for over 28 years, I’d always had a longing to try something different. So last October, I left the teaching profession and was incredibly fortunate to take up my post with CAFOD, as ‘Community Participation Coordinator’ for CAFOD in Salford, working with CAFOD supporters and volunteers in parishes and schools in the Diocese of Salford.

After a period of induction, I was ready to get stuck in, visiting parishes, celebrating the work of CAFOD and its overseas partners and inviting volunteers to join CAFOD on the journey that began in 1960, when three Catholic women responded to the plight of people living on the Caribbean Island of Dominica.

In April, I went to speak at three Sunday masses in the parish of ‘The Good Shepherd’, Pendle, a parish made up of three churches : ‘Sacred Heart’ in Colne, ‘Holy Saviour’ in Nelson, and ‘St Peter’s & Paul’s’ in Barrowford.

This was my first Lent appeal. I’d be delivering a short talk after the Gospel and, all being well, some interested parishioners would volunteer for CAFOD. After the morning masses three parishioners came forward ! I was delighted !

After lunch with the parish priest, Father Chris Gorton, I made my way to the final and smallest mass of the day, at Saints  Peter & Paul, in Barrowford. It had been a long day but three parishioners had stepped forward to lead on CAFOD Fast Day Appeals. Little did they – Kathy Burnett, Margaret Ward and Michael Taylor – or I, think that this ‘chance’ encounter would take us and the parish on a fast and furious journey to Kenya!

As I chatted to parishioners at the end of this  mass I noticed a man holding himself back. I smiled and nodded as he stepped towards me, hand outstretched. “Thanks for that talk. I really enjoyed that. I don’t want to volunteer for CAFOD but …..”

Rather than volunteer for CAFOD, Ged Heffernan of Fern Innovations said he wanted to share an invention with CAFOD that would “transform people’s lives, would address the needs of 1 in 6 people in the world and all you need is flowing water.” That’s one big proposal but I was keen to find out more !

Ged, a former teacher and Physicist with a background in manufacturing, had an impressive employment history : working for BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and in engine manufacture for Mercedes-Benz F1 and Indy car engine manufacturing, but he had decided to move into the renewable energy sector and to help developing communities.


Ged Heffernan explaining the rudiments of River Power Pod at the engineering works Knowsley

At the time, I couldn’t help but think about Professor Calculus, the inventor from my childhood favourite Tintin adventures – little was I to know that this invention would go onto to deliver all that Ged was proposing.

The Project 

There are currently 1.3 billion people in the world without access to electricity – that’s 1 in 6 people !

Ged has been leading the way in sustainable energy solutions and has developed the River Power Pod (RPP). This in-stream hydro-turbine is capable of providing mechanical or electrical power.  It is ideally suited as a remote power solution for isolated communities as it is easily transportable, scalable and can be rapidly deployed and relocated.

Approximately 170 million people who live without access to electricity are within 1km of a river – the River Power Pod can produce electricity or pump water where most alternatives cannot. It is currently being used in the UK, Nepal and shortly, in Kenya.

As the product uses the kinetic energy in flowing water to create hydro-electricity, the only thing that is vital is a source of flowing water. With this it is reliable, economically viable, sustainable and accessible to all.

Yet, the true beauty of ‘RPP’ is how simple and easy it is to install and maintain. By employing proven, widely supported automotive-derived technology, it is capable of being configured to operate on-grid or completely stand-alone – there are even options without the use of any electronics.

Furthermore, Ged knew how he wanted his project to be used; with funds to build and install turbines, Kenyan partners would be able to form ‘RPP Team Kenya’ which could provide locally owned and managed, accessible and sustainable hydro-power to transform the lives of so many communities and, ultimately, significant swathes of the Kenyan population.

 Finding a community

I shared my encounter with Geoff O’Donoghue, CAFOD’s Operations Director, who was very interested and enthusiastically supportive, offering his encouragement and requesting up-dates on progress. I then sent an initial email to Sr Eleanor in Kenya. Over the course of developing ‘Mama Margaret’s, when we were sometimes worn down by obstacles and challenges, she would often reassure me and encourage me to leave it in the hands of the ‘God of small surprises’. My email suggested that the ‘God of small surprises’ was at work again as I asked to see if any Salesian communities, who lived in close proximity to flowing water, would be interested in free power and electricity ! It didn’t take long for her to reply !!


Another surprise from Sr Eleanor’s ‘God of small surprises’ – the safe arrival of Team Tanken2016 !

“Talk to me about the God of Surprises and I’m hooked. Our school in Embu depends totally on free flowing river water – need I say more. As you can imagine the pumping of water for several hundred girls isn’t cheap. We’re listening. I’ll pass the documents straight to the Salesians and see if they’ll run with the ball. It could be right up their street. Keep us in the loop – the God of Surprises never sleeps!”

Sr Eleanor’s email landed at Fr Isaac Maina’s inbox – the Director of Don Bosco Technical and Secondary School in Embu, 130 km north east of Nairobi.



Fr Maina is a true Salesian, walking in the steps of Don Bosco. He is characterised by an inexhaustible energy to explore any means by which he can improve the life of students in his community. He signs every email with the auspicious quote, “You were born original, don’t die a copy.”

On hearing back from Sr Eleanor and Fr Maina we set in motion the process to provide his community with clean, readily available electricity because we knew that it would be better financially, health-wise and would reduce pollution within his community.

Many families in Embu rely on kerosene, which is harmful and very expensive. Fumes from kerosene have affected so many and the money that the project would save, as the families will no longer have to use kerosene, could now be used for other important things, such as school fees, food or better housing. A lot of food is wasted because there is no electricity for fridges; electricity could be used to preserve food that is usually wasted.

Kenya has many big main rivers, such as the Tana and Athi; these rivers pass through very dry land and if water could be pumped to these lands, parents could grow more food to feed their families, perhaps growing enough to sell, in order to send their children to school.

Furthermore children, especially girls, walk many miles looking for water. If water from these rivers could be pumped using the engineering technology, it could save these children a lot of time – time that that could be used to study and give them a brighter future. The electricity powered by this method would also allow children to study when it became dark, allowing them to do homework in the evening.

Travelling to Embu, Kenya

 The parishioners of ‘The Good Shepherd’, Pendle, decided to fund Ged’s first fact-finding visit to Embu, that would including comprehensive river surveys and an evaluation of the technical schools manufacturing capability and capacity. Once it was decided that they were to head to Kenya to meet Fr Mania and help provide his community with hydroelectricity, Ged had to get a team together. As an Physicist with a manufacturing background, he has certain expertise but there were other areas in which other people could help.


Caitlin Thompson, Michel Kiboi, Fr Maina and Alois Ngari making final adjustments to Alois’ bridge, that would be used in the first River Power Pod site in Embu

So he employed the help of  Lancaster University Physical Geography graduate Caitlin Thompson; Kenyan Civil and Structural Engineering student  Michelle Kiboi, who was studying at Manchester University, and Alois Ngari, a Kenyan Mechanical Engineering graduate and ex-pupil of Don Bosco Technical College, Embu.

In August, Ged headed over with his team and I accompanied Thornleigh Salesian College’s sixth form students on a four-week project in Moshi, Tanzania. This bit took some co-ordinating because during the project I and ‘Team Tanken2016’ were also to complete a four day bike ride across Tanzania and Kenya ( Thursday 4th August – Sunday 7th August )


Team Tanken 2016’s ‘grand’ depart from Don Bosco School, Moshi, Tanzania                       Left to right : Ronnie Hayes, James Dennis, Joseph Kamau ( Director of Caritas Kitui ), Steve Burrowes ( CAFOD ), George Wambaygo ( CAFOD – Emergency Response Team ) Sam Dixon,  Mark Dixon

We finished the ride on Sunday, timing our finish with Ged and Caitlin flying into Nairobi ! On the Monday we all visited Mama Margaret’s in Dagoretti and on the Tuesday we were privileged to visit the CAFOD and Caritas partner project ‘Hands on Kitui’, which has helped the community of Kitui develop a dam and other sustainable ways to access clean water.


CAFOD and Caritas Kitui’s ‘Hands on Kitui’ project


Joseph Kamau, Director of Caritas Kitui  and member of Team Tanken 2016 introduces the riders to the guests at the commissioning of the ‘Hands on Kitui’ project


Steve Burrowes checking out the water from one of the many new CAFOD funded well is Kitui



Caritas workers and women from Kitui celebrate the commissioning of the ‘Hands on Kitui’ project


Examing produce from the ‘model’ farm with Catherine Ogalla ( CAFOD Nairobi )

Ged and Team River Power Pod then travelled to Embu, with Fr Maina. When Ged and Team River Power Pod arrived in Embu students and staff from both Don Bosco Technical Secondary School and Don Bosco Girls Secondary School were very happy to see them. Using a River Power Pod as part of an interactive physics lesson in Don Bosco Girls Secondary School, Embu – along with keen future-employees for Don Bosco Embu’s business – they shared our plan to develop and manufacture turbines for Kenya. The lessons explained the physics and concept behind the project; all students are looking forward to having the concept actualized, and physically producing electricity or pumping water from the river.

Father Mania says, “This project will reduce the cost of electricity and provide power to many “powerless” families. For our school, it will save us that very high electricity bill that we pay every month. That money will be used to support other poor children to study or train.

“It will improve the quality of education by giving students the opportunity to study at night. It will provide jobs for the youth, who will be manufacturing turbines and raising revenue for the school to train more needy and poor students. It will create lasting links between the UK and Kenya. This will enrich students and people from both countries.

“‘Going Green’ is the way forward – I have shared the idea with our regional Governor in Embu and he was so enthusiastic about it. He asked me how much it could cost to produce 1MW! A few days ago he called me again expressing his desire to have RPP working in our county.

“RPP is a very noble project that will save lives by providing “water to the thirsty”, providing food to the families, and improving greatly the financial status of families so that they will be able to send their children to school.”

“Thank you so much Steve for giving me an opportunity to write these few lines; I am sorry that I have written them in a great hurry because I am going to fix a machine in the workshop! Be blessed. Say a big thank you to the people of ‘The Good Sheperd’.”

Looking towards the future

Team River Power Pod spent two weeks surveying rivers and identifying the sites for initial locations of River Power Pods in both Kitui and Embu, to bring social and economic benefit to the local schools/colleges and communities.


A potential River Power Pod site in Kitui


Another potential River Power Pod site in Embu


Ged Heffernan and Caitlin Thompson surveying a river in Kitui with Joseph Kamau, Director of Caritas Kitui



Ged Heffernan and Caitlin Thompson fitting a Power Pods to Alois’ bridge


River Power Pod registering power in Kenya !

Team River Power Pod are working with Caritas Kitui, CAFOD and the Salesians, with their expertise, skills and track record in bringing about change, to deliver practical action to the people in most need of help; free from the potential uncertainty and waste associated with many other routes.

Team River Power Pod will be involving the communities in Colne and Embu in the whole process, before, during and after installation. They also aim to use as much local content, materials and technologies as possible – supported my members of Colne’s electronic, engineering community volunteering their skills in Kenya ! What a wonderful example of faith in action !

By using hydro-technology, as a practical example, they will also be able to provide inclusive education for young people in order to develop a passion and skills for sustainable futures in vital energy and fresh-water provision.

Furthermore, by training local people in staged progressive training, to select sites, install, maintain and repair turbines, in the future local people will be able to manufacture turbines themselves. This will provide both locally sustainable power and locally-owned and managed entrepreneurial employment opportunities.

Whilst reflecting on his time in Kenya, Ged said:

“All the Kenyan people we met were welcoming and wonderful.  They greet strangers with a smile, are full of energy, goodwill, hope and a desire to learn, so as to improve themselves and Kenya despite the challenges they face.

“The indelible image outside the capital, on dusty roads, broken dirt-tracks and across dust-bowl fields, is one of children, mostly girls, spending large portions of their day walking miles to fetch water in plastic containers they are carrying or transporting on the backs of almost-lame donkeys.


Walking miles and wasting hours of education collecting water

“Yet, beautiful, healthy, fast-flowing rivers, with enormous untapped potential, run through the arid land and fields of dust; their precious, but unused, fresh-water flowing off and away into the Indian Ocean.”


“Recognising the great potential of River Power Pod ( RPP ), the help we were provided with in identifying, and getting us to, potential locations was brilliant and quite innovative!

“RPP can help a whole host of different communities – we can provide irrigation in Kitui, where droughts have led to food shortages, employment through the manufacturing of RPP at Don Bosco, Embu and we will be able to help these communities and environments by providing safe, sustainable electricity. The impact will be self-perpetuating.”

“We were overwhelmed by the response of people at every stage of our Kenyan project. The immediate reaction of the parishioners of The Good Shepherd in Colne, Lancashire was amazing; raising the funds to cover the travel for our initial surveying trip and offering practical support. Once in Kenya, everyone we spoke to was engaged and excited to see what we were doing. As they say in Kenya, Asante sana! (Thank you!).”

On returning to the UK we all met and fed-back to the project leaders and parish community in Pendle, at all their masses and we began to plan the next steps of the project. Fairly high up the list was to report back to Bishop John Arnold, who has been in the loop from the outset. He was delighted to hear about the progress made and gave the project his blessing.Here is Bishop John’s ringing endorsement.


River Power Pod meets Bishop John     Arnold.                                                             Left to right : Ged Heffernan, Bishop John Arnold, Caitlin Thompson, Kathy Burnett, Steve Burrowes


 River Power Pod

Bringing Power to the powerless

” This mission encapsulates so many aspects of the nature of projects we seek to deliver through CAFOD and our partnerships; applying innovative technology to enable inclusive and sustainable dignity, growth and realisation of potential for less fortunate members of our human family, through contributions of training, skills and financial support volunteered from within our parishes and networks. It will bring freshwater and electrical power to communities and schools, while also empowering students and school-levers with skills which will enable the development of manufacturing capabilities within Kenya and create locally owned and managed, self-sustaining enterprises that will facilitate further work by our agencies and partners.”

River Power Pod: responsible, sustainable and fair use of our world’s resources !

Just One World

 A similar de-brief took place between myself and Geoff O’Donoghue, CAFOD’s Operations Director, who’s given the project CAFOD’s support – making available support to the project in the UK and transport and logistical support from CAFOD’s office in Nairobi. Geoff backed up Bishop John’s endorsement with his own and CAFOD’s warm support.


Geoff O’Donoghue, CAFOD’s Operations Director

” From my perspective this project ticks so many boxes – linking communities in different parts of the world in work aimed at the development of each person in ways that work in harmony with and protect our common home.  Practical, sustainable, ethical, developmental, supporting girls to fully engage in the development and use of new technologies and mobilising resources from the wider human family to support this. Wonderful !”

The project is now looking to raise funds to install turbines, to help transform communities and secure the futures of people such as Don Bosco pupils and students. You will soon be able to help ‘Sponsor a Pod’, transform the lives of Kenyan communities and follow the smiles, singing and dancing that your contribution creates @RiverPowerPod.

The co-ordinating team at ‘The Good Sheperd’ are holding an open, public meeting for anyone to attend who wishes to find out about the project. Furthermore, members of the community will be able to volunteer their time, energies and skills to the on-going development of the project – which will include members of the community travelling over to Embu to offer their job specific skills, be it in engineering, electronics, welding, metal work etc  Ged has a very clear picture of aspects of the job that will need ‘up-skilling’ as the community in Embu move forward to fabrication, repair and maintenance of ‘River Power Pod’ in Kenya !

Spread the word, within and beyond the CAFOD community of Salford. Anyone would be welcome !

Date :           6th October

Time :          7.00 pm

Place :          Holy Saviour Parish Hall, Nelson ( BB9 8HE )

You can help to ‘Sponsor a Pod’; transforming the lives of Kenyan communities and follow the infectious smiles, singing and dancing that your contribution creates:

on our Facebook page @RiverPowerPodAfricaProject;

on Twitter @RiverPowerPodAP;

and on our website

To help ‘Sponsor a pod’ you can make a donation, with Gift Aid option., at our fund-raising page :


For more information contact :

Steve Burrowes Community Participation CoordinatorCAFOD

CAFOD Salford Volunteer Centre Katherine House 26 Singleton Road Salford M7 4WL Telephone : 0161 705 0605

Mobile : 07710 094451   or 07540 810028

To learn more about CAFOD’s work in Kenya, please visit:


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