When I saw the 2008 documentary Flow: For The Love of Water -- about the privatization of water resources -- it infuriated me that something so abundant and essential could be turned into a commodity for profit and exploitation.
So when I heard about the Water4 Foundation through its publicist, I was already interested in how global philanthropy could expose people to other cultures -- especially through volunteer tourism -- and make water available to people who really needed it without it costing them.
Several years ago, Richard and Terri Greenly went to Africa with a church group, and saw what the United Nations had sent down there for water pumps. It had spent 100 million dollars to put them there, but a small black circular ring that costs 90 cents had failed and they were all broken.
This husband and wife team from Oklahoma owned a huge water pump business, so when they came home, they felt they could do it cheaper and better.
The Greenlys put together Water4 Foundation, a non-profit company, and using local (African) materials, built a pump that was better and cheaper. More importantly, they sent teams there to teach villagers how to build wells and gave them kits to build 100 more for their use and as employment. The income from having available water has brought more food and employment. The young girls now go to school instead of walking to the river all day.
Not only is Water4 providing clean water to impoverished areas, but by teaching the skills of how to drill, set the pipe, make and install the water pump, the organization is unique in offering self-reliance. The Water4 Foundation hopes to advance the health and prosperity of those populations as a catalyst to stimulate local economies.
The organization has established reasonable access to clean drinking water for over 100,000 people in places like Haiti, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Rwanda so far. Eventually they hope to get water to a million people. Going forward, Water4 plans to follow through in countries such as Zambia, Sudan, Malawi, Guatemala, Kenya, Ethiopia, Togo, and India.
In this email interview, a little light is shed on their efforts, but for more info on Water4 go to: water4.org
Q: How do you select the places you target?
RG: Most of our projects come by groups contacting us for help with their water issues. We can only go where we are invited and where the group has existing infrastructure -- transportation, local good will, material resources, etc. We then research the water table and probability of making a well. We must qualify the project on potential longevity. Can we help develop a drilling group that will continue to drill wells after we leave?
All of these parameters are considered under the overall need of the group and area. Most projects are "worthy," but with limited resources we are forced to choose wisely.
Q: Once you have decided on a country and location, how do you research where you will and what you do?
RG: We have a questionnaire that we have our partner fill out with questions such as:
1) Where do you currently get water?
2) Are there any open hand dug wells in the area?
3) If so how deep and do the wells go dry during the year?
4) How many people will the well serve?
5) What is the social impact of a well(s)?
We are very careful to discuss with the partner the exact location of the well so as to not disrupt the balance of power in the village. A well in the wrong person‛s back yard can be problematic if he chooses to charge the villagers for the water.
Q: How often do you visit a place to establish what you will accomplish and to establish relationships there?
RG: Part of our model is to make our partner as self-sufficient as quickly as we can. If we do our training/equipping/supporting correctly, we should not have to return to the site more than one or two times.
Sometimes the partner wants to begin manufacturing our pumps or drilling kits "in country" so we will return to train them. We tell our partners to count on 18 months to two years to get the water well drilling on a self sufficient footing.
Q: How do you establish the partnerships you have and decide who handles what?
RG: The groups that are able to demonstrate that they can make the drilling tools work and move the projects along become our partners. To be successful in these under resourced remote areas the partner has to be very clever and driven.
It is not for the faint of heart, so when we find a group that can drill wells on a sustained basis, they are our guys and they are responsible for the on the ground work.
Water4 Foundation will provide the equipment, training and technical support until they are self sufficient. Water4 has engineering, product development and logistical support.
Q: What have been the most difficult projects and why?
RG: North Korea has definitely been way up on the list of difficulty, mostly due to the lack of resources and extremely rigid travel restrictions. There is no outside communication (internet or cell). The residents are in very difficult circumstances with lack of food, clean water, meds, clothing -- everything, so the stakes for us to succeed are very high.
Our first trip to Zambia in 2009 was also very difficult, as we were rolling out our drilling methods and newly developed pump. We were tasked with drilling and completing two wells in four days, and we succeeded.
Later we were told by a relief worker that he was in country to install water wells. He had been there for nine months and installed two wells. We come in and drill and completed two wells in four days.
Q: What are some of your more memorable experiences as to the beauty of a country or the people?
Flying over the Congo in a single-engine small plane, looking from horizon to horizon with nothing but rivers and jungle, no roads, no villages, nothing -- just the vastness of creation, gave us great perspective as to our "place" on earth.
In the jungle of Sierra Leone, taking hollowed-out log boats to traverse the rivers, drilling a well for a remote village and installing a solar powered pump, hearing about no more infant deaths due to water-borne illness... JOY...
As we were leaving the village Rokbop, Sierra Leone, the lovely people of the village handed us six chickens and a liter of palm oil. This is all they had; this was a huge sacrifice, it was one of the most meaningful gifts we have ever received.
At a school in war-torn Gulu, Uganda, for kids rescued out of the 10-year war, we drilled a well with the help of the boys who are graduating. We got to teach the young men the drilling techniques, drilling tools and pumps and then got to tell them that this is their new job, to be well drillers.
These young men had little chance other than subsistence farming to survive and now they had a chance at a vocation: well driller. Wow!
The Restore Young Men's Drillers was formed and they went to drill many more wells in their community and on the Congo border. Purpose!
Q: Where would you recommend people to visit and to volunteer?
RG: We are still working out our volunteer strategy as the trips average two weeks and cost around $5,000 each and the conditions can be a little rough. We really need monthly support so we can reach our water-to-people goals.
Our goal is to provide water supply to one million people by 2014, then double each year. Having said that, Zambia is a great place to visit, the people are very friendly and the needs are very great. India is a very crowded country, but very beautiful and full of monkeys, mountains and rich vegetation. Many places in China we have been are very majestic, and China is becoming much more user friendly since our first trip in 2005.
For more stories by Brad Balfour go to: filmfestivaltraveler.com