For the past 30 years Goleta resident Evie Treen, a retired — but still volunteering — Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office employee, has made it her life's mission to bring fresh water, education and better sanitation to rural villages in Kenya, and with the help of community members like Santa Ynez Valley resident Jackie Abudd, that vision is quickly being realized.

On Saturday, July 27, from 1 to 8 p.m., Abudd will host "Fandango at the Ranch," a fundraising event for Friends of Woni International, a nonprofit organization founded by Treen that supports small villages in Africa without water and other basic necessities.

The event aims to raise $56,000 in order to begin forward progress on two important projects: building a fourth water well in Salama, Kenya, and beginning construction on a state-of-the-art girls and boys dormitory bathroom, which will replace the outhouses they currently use.

Abudd, also a foundation board member, will host the fundraiser at her family's 5-acre ranch, Hacienda Amador, in Santa Ynez. And she plans to pull out all the stops.

"I recently went to one of Evie's fundraising events and really understood what the need was," she said. "I dreamt it up and decided we're going to do 'Fandago at the Ranch.'"

The upcoming event will feature a Mexican-themed dinner, flamenco guitarist Chris Fossek, flamenco dancing, dancing horses and a Mariachi singer. 

Upon meeting the passionate founder, according to the hostess, both Treen's commitment and the mission of Friends of Woni International spoke to her.

"When you meet her, she's a tiny little thing. I'm 5-foot-2 and I tower over her," Abudd said. "She's full of energy and is really passionate — it's contagious. She's a firecracker!"

After giving a sizable donation, Abudd said, the foundation was able to finish the girls' high school dormitory this past February.

"The more you know, the more you want to help out," she said.

Building for Kenya

The girls' dormitory — costing $120,000 to build — at Kyaani High School broke ground in February 2017, according to Treen, and due to inclement weather took two years to build.

The dormitory, which Treen confessed would have taken years to fundraise for had it not been for the generous donation of Abudd and others, now houses 85 high school girls, who would have otherwise had to walk miles in the dark, risking their lives, to get an education.

"The girls don't have to walk to school anymore — in the heat or in harm's way," Treen explained. "Most of them had to walk miles in order to get to school.

And of course, keeping girls in high school — and even boys for that matter — is a chore, because their normal high school was over 10 miles away. And they don't own cars or bicycles."

Not only does Kyaani High School, located in rural Ngunyuna, Kenya, now have a dorm but also a water well, as of 2016, powered by solar pumps funded by the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara North.  

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"All I try to do is put the word out and beg," Treen said wistfully of her never-ending fundraising efforts.

To build a 400- to 600-foot-deep water well, Treen explained, costs on average $60,000 to $70,000, which includes a professional geologist, soil analysis, drilling equipment and solar technology to drive the water pump — and that's if all goes as planned.

"The government over there doesn't do a whole lot for the local people unless you live in town; then you have running water and electricity," she said. 

Since 2009, with much determination and dozens of airplane rides to Africa, Friends of Woni International has built three wells, one of which is coined "the magic well" built in 2011 for a small farming community of 2,000 to 3,000 in Ngunyumu, Kenya; a high school dormitory; and soon-to-be-built sanitation infrastructure.

The first well built was in a Maasai town located in the Amboseli National Park at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro and now serves 600 to 1,000 residents with fresh water.

Treen recalled that particular experience being an emotional one. 

"When the water started coming out of the drill hole, and as they were still drilling, all of the Maasai people came and stood in the water," Treen recalled with emotion. "They first said a prayer and started singing. I couldn't talk."

She said the locals kids looked down at the water with curiosity. When she told them to touch the water, they began playing in it like typical kids. 

"I do this because I want to, and because I love the people over there. I want to do more," Treen said, admitting that sometimes she feels like her wheels are spinning because she would like to do more, but given the cost, she can't.

"Just getting water to people that didn't have water, is a lot," she said.

Treen said the catalyst responsible for her first visit to Kenya — which had been a longtime dream of hers — came after the loss of her late husband.

When she arrived, something unexpected occurred. What began as a desire to heal from her loss and experience the people, animals and land, transformed into something bigger: a legacy of giving.

"We all forget how lucky we are to have a faucet to turn on and get water," Treen said. 

For tickets to the event, contact Abudd at 805-636-8848 or visit Friends of Woni Kenya on Facebook.

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Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News.