Thomas M. “Tom” O’Brien is a successful businessman and entrepreneur who understands risks and rewards upon having founded four private businesses and serving as a CEO or CFO of several public corporations.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tom made a calculated risk that he had hoped would help to keep people safe in their homes, while at the same time realizing a profit.
Tom invested in the purchase of electrostatic sprayers, and teamed up with an antimicrobial coating company.
It was a time when people were ensconced in their homes, many not stepping outdoors for days at a time and fearful of going into grocery stores and many places that, pre-pandemic, they had given no thought of going to – and that included visiting the homes of relatives and close friends.
Most disappointing for many was the lack of in-person visits with loved ones, especially on birthdays, anniversary celebrations and other special occasions.
Part of Tom’s idea was to enable people to resume such gatherings – safely – by providing a service which would have workers come in to a client’s home and treat the surfaces using the sprayers to apply the antimicrobial coating, as is done in large-scale airports, airplanes and some industrial operations, albeit on a smaller residential scale sort of along the lines of how an in-home carpet steamer company operates.
Alas, Tom and his partners found that such a service “wasn’t as much in demand” as was initially anticipated, and closed up shop.
Tom’s initial investment included 20 hydrostatic sprayers, some of which were brand new, never even taken out of the box.
As a member of the Bread and Water for Africa® Board of Directors since 2008, Tom reached out to Bread and Water for Africa® President and CEO Bryan Krizek to find out if any of our partners in sub-Saharan Africa would have any need for the sprayers.
Tom knew the equipment, ideal for use in medical clinics and hospitals, could also be used in agricultural operations for spraying organic fertilizers and pesticides.
“Yeah, we could use them,” Bryan told Tom.
It wasn’t long afterwards that Bread and Water for Africa® fulfillment manager Dave Frank embarked on an eight-hour (one-way) drive in a van from Alexandria, Virginia to Tom’s place to load it all up and transport to our warehouse to await shipping to our sub-Saharan African partner organizations.
Each year, Bread and Water for Africa® ships 40-foot containers of donated medicines, medical supplies and equipment valued in the millions of dollars to Ethiopia and Sierra Leone for use by our partners there which operate clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities.
Among them is our partner in Sierra Leone, Rural Youth Development Organization (RYDO) which in addition to operating free healthcare clinics for the indigent in one of the most impoverished countries in the world, also operates an agricultural training program for women and youth, which also assists them in establishing small businesses to sell their surplus produce at local markets.
This past year, with the pandemic on the wane around the world and the need for disinfectant sprayers in a medical setting lessened, RYDO program manager Joseph Kobba informed Bread and Water for Africa® Executive Director Beth Tessema that the sprayers could be used by those in farming training program so Dave placed several in a container filled with medical supplies bound for Sierra Leone.
“Farming and small-scale business in rural communities is a means of saving lives and decreasing malnutrition,” says Joseph. “Investing in women and youth in farming and entrepreneurship lays a solid foundation for development and prosperity.”
Joseph reported this month that the sprayers are being put to good – and much-needed use – to control pests, apply organic liquid fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides to help control fungi that damage plants and unwanted vegetation.
“Mildew, rusts (a group of fungal diseases affecting the aerial parts of plants), blights and fungi are the worst enemies of farming plants as they hamper the production of crops such as rice and cassava,” says Joseph.
“With the donation of sprayers, RYDO can now help farmers accomplish their task of controlling pests that damage their plants,” he noted. “Presently many farmers have now started using the sprayers.”
And, Joseph explained the sprayers couldn’t have arrived at a more needed time for the farmers dependent on successful harvests for not just for their livelihoods, but their very health and even lives.
“Recently a farm at Bumpe (a rural village served by RYDO programs) was invaded by grasshoppers,” he told us.
That could have been tragic for the smallholder farmers in the region, however the good news is the sprayers were filled with a mixture of pesticides and water and sprayed into the infested areas containing the swarm and limiting crop damage.
“The farm is now doing well in terms of growing,” says Joseph.
In addition to the farmers themselves, he added that RYDO volunteers have also been trained in the use of the sprayers to apply liquid fertilizer in various areas prone to soil erosion.
“The donated sprayers are helping farmers to complete the task of treating larger farms within a matter of a few hours as they can cover a huge distance compared to any other resource available to rural farmers. Also, the electrostatic technology in the sprayers reduces the amount of chemical needed to cover a given area.”
And while Tom’s initial idea for the use of sprayers did not come to fruition, instead the equipment is being utilized today for an even higher purpose – transforming the lives of women farmers who are using the sprayers to fertilize their crops and protect the plants from invasive pests, as well as the lives of their children who are no longer going hungry and are attending school now that their mother can afford to pay their school fees with the money she earns from selling a portion of her harvest.