As a local landscape architect, Riverside resident Tom Lupfer proclaims the gospel of sustainable landscaping whenever he can. Sometime between Jan. 18 and Feb. 22, he and 19 other landscape professionals will be bringing their expertise in sustainable practices to a small village in Ghana, Africa.

It won’t involve plants and gardens. Instead, it will involve something more fundamental — access to drinking water.

“It’ll serve a whole community of several thousand people,” said Lupfer, who was invited to join the mission by a man named Ed Beaulieu, the chief sustainability officer of Aquascape Inc., which is leading the project.

“I jumped at the chance,” said Lupfer. “It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. When it comes along, you have to seize it.”

Specifically, the Ghana Aquascape Mission, as it’s being called, will provide a means of converting rainwater into drinking water via an in-ground system of solar-powered pumps and filters that use various grades of stone to separate out the particulate matter. 

It’s meant to benefit the Kanuwloe Community School, which educates the children of women whose young lives were spent as slaves of local priests, a practice that goes back centuries in this part of Africa. 

According to Lupfer, “trokosi,” as the practice is called, involves girls being handed over to the priest as a form of payment in exchange for atonement for the sins of her family. The term of their servitude ranges. While some are enslaved for life, others are set free.

 The undertaking isn’t cheap. Each of the 20 landscape architects had to raise $5,000, which Lupfer did by soliciting donations from his clients.

“I just put the word out and it covered the costs,” said Lupfer.

But Lupfer also wanted to do a bit more and asked the charity through which the trip is being booked, International Needs Network, for some advice. What they came up with was Bags of Love, one-gallon, zip-lock baggies that would include things like school supplies, deflated playground balls, first aid items and small toys.

Through the hard work of Susan Zidlicky, Elizabeth Koz and Mary Smith, along with the Ames School Student Council, the Indian Guides and Girl Scouts, word got out. Over the final weeks of 2013, kids paraded to Lupfer’s front door on Eastgrove Road. Now, he’s trying to figure out just how to deliver the 300 goody bags to Africa.

“The grapevine in Riverside worked really well,” said Lupfer. “I’ll be putting them in Army duffel bags and lug them myself.”

Lupfer also raised $1,500 through the Riverside Drinking Society, a loose confederation of 80 or so locals who informally meet a couple of times a year at a Riverside watering hole. Lupfer started the group several years ago.

That money will be used on the ground in Ghana to purchase things the villagers need.

“The extra money is going to Africa and being spent in local markets for things the kids need,” said Lupfer. “The $20 a fifth-grade girl at Ames gave us will be taken to Africa and spent there.”

Lupfer is simply waiting for the “go” sign from Aquascape. The pump system was shipped via a container ship months ago but had been bogged down in a port in Spain. But late last week, Lupfer got word that the container has left Spain and is now en route to Ghana.

The group also sent money to Ghana last fall to hire local men to dig the cistern where the rainwater filtration system will be placed.

According to Lupfer, that work — which took four months — is largely complete. The group, once in Africa, will be there 10 days.

“When we get there, we’ll put it together, bury it and get it up and running,” said Lupfer.

The climate in Ghana is tropical, with both rainy and dry seasons, so the system won’t necessarily be usable all year-round, said Lupfer, but it’s still an improvement over the present situation — where children have to walk miles every day, year-round to procure drinking water.

“This will save them hours of work a day so they can study or simply play like the children they are,” said Lupfer.