Water For All, International Well Clubs

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I’ve spent most of this week at Terry’s house, resting my back, which I tweaked again, but thankfully is almost back to normal now. As I’m writing this post, we have 4 well clubs working, with another ready to begin drilling next Tuesday or Wednesday. Speaking of well clubs, here’s the basic structure on how Water For All (WFA) well clubs operate:

1. Someone in a community says they want a well.

2. WFA encourages them to get 9 more people in their community who also want a well, which then forms a “well club.” They elect a president, a treasurer and a “driller,” who becomes the club’s resident expert on this type of well drilling – and who will be the one to actually drill and supervise the last 8 wells to be completed. Actually, everyone in the club gets trained, but the driller becomes the leader of the work. They also determine among themselves the order in which the 10 wells for the club will be drilled. The final thing they do is an actual written request for the wells, signed by each of the club members, essentially co-guaranteeing participation (because it truly requires 10 workers to do the wells) and authorized by a recognized community leader.

3. Each of the 10 families raises $100, unless they’re so desperately poor they can’t – in which case WFA may allow them to raise less and subsidize the balance of the cost. It’s critical though, that they participate in the cost.

4. Once the families in the club have raised all the money, someone from WFA goes to the market with them, never handling their money, instructing them on all the supplies needed for ALL 10 of the wells.

5. The supplies get delivered to the club President’s location and we set up for the first well.

6. Someone from WFA goes to the first well site and begins the process of instructing the club on how THEY will drill their own wells. Then, we show them the entire process for the first and second wells only, working alongside them (which is what I’ll be doing in Africa), teaching and mentoring the technology officer on how to drill in their specific location.

7. We turn them loose to finish ON THEIR OWN, the last 8 wells.

8. We start the process all over again with another new well club!

How amazing is this???

Santos’ New Well

This is Santos, washing his hands with water pumped for the first time (at over 5 gallons/min!) from HIS OWN new well, which Water For All (WFA) taught HIM to drill; today we helped him complete the pump installation, and he will now be the pump installation “expert” for his water club (of 4 more wells). See if you can imagine with me just a couple ways in which life might look different for Santos and his family, now that they have essentially unlimited access to safe, clean, cool water from their 146 foot (45 meters) deep well.
They have unlimited, safe, clean, cool water for drinking and cooking. Until now, they drank from and cooked with contaminated pond water or from jerry cans carried back and forth from the community well, ½ mile away. The community well water is probably clean, but there’s been no way for them to keep the containers clean. Imagine the health implications.
They can bathe. Until now, they climbed into bed every night, unwashed, wearing the same clothes to bed they’d worked in for days if not weeks or even months. When was the last time you climbed into bed, in dirty clothes, without bathing – simply because there wasn’t water to do so?
His wife can wash their clothes at home whenever they are dirty. Until now, she had to carry them the ½ mile to the community well, waiting in line for access to the pump along with all the other villagers, washing by hand in one bucket, rinsing in another; then she had to wait for them to dry on the fences or bushes around the well, and finally, after at least 2-4 hours, carry them the ½ mile back home. No wonder clothes got washed infrequently.
Santos paid $100 for this well. It is scandalous that people still live this way when clean, safe water is so available. Sherry and I will be heading to Africa somewhere around the first of next year to begin the process of finding more folks like Santos and his family, who have been marginalized, forgotten and with no hope or dream they could ever have unlimited access to safe water. Thanks for coming along with us on the journey!

Sidelined in Bolivia . . . for a couple of days

Wednesday morning. Woke up today feeling like someone stabbed me during the night, over and over in one spot just to the side of my spine at about L5-S1. Over the years, I’ve dealt with back pain like many people my age (which is none of your business), but have been really fortunate not to have experienced it for a good long time. I think shoveling mud and sand yesterday with awkward tools from awkward positions (trying to stay out of as much mud as possible) was the final blow in a series of tiny “tweaks” to which I’ve subjected my body lately. Its funny; I thought I’d get sick from the water in the bush, or the bacteria on the hands of the gracious peasant women (who haven’t had sufficient water to bathe, and you can only imagine where those hands have been) preparing meals at the well sites, or drinking “refrescos” made with questionable water, or eating from bowls and utensils that have been shared by countless others and have been “washed” by a quick rinse in unboiled, cold water, already dirty from previous dishes.

Nope; not a moment of being sick since I arrived. Instead, I’m grounded with back pain. I’m hoping and praying that a day or two with no lifting or pounding will get me back to the drill sites again. Until then, paperwork and a writing project to focus on . . . though it’s a challenge to type lying down with a laptop on your chest. Just kidding. I can at least sit and type as long as I don’t move too quickly ☺

Ronald & Melba’s well

It’s Sunday morning and I’m pretty well recovered from 3 straight days of digging. The amount of work required to dig a hole to a depth of 165 feet or so is amazing. We dug through about 130 feet of hard clay and rock, along with another 35 feet or so of hard-packed sand. The hole is only about 3” wide at the bottom and maybe 6” – 8” at the top. The 1” diameter drill stem, filled with mud and water gets really heavy, especially once you get to a depth of over 100 feet. Now, to get a bit of a picture of how this works, you can see from the WFA website (http://waterforallinternational.org/default.aspx) that the drill stem is lifted by either a group of 4 “rowers” or occasionally by a motor driven rig; then the person holding the drill literally drives it into the hole so the drill bit can cut a bit more. The water displacement process brings the cuttings up through the drill stem and out the “cachucha” pipe at the top.

We’re drilling now where Melba and Ronald live as caretakers for the property owner, and will finish their well this coming Monday or Tuesday. They have 6 children and live in a “house” (about 10 ‘ x 20’) with a dirt floor, no doors on the 2 door openings, one bed and one platform on which all the kids sleep. The entire house is constructed of a single course of 1” x 8” boards, with pretty large gaps. A blue tarp covers the openings at night and when it gets really cold. The corrugated roof is full of holes, so I can’t imagine they don’t get wet when it rains.
All the cooking is done outside over an open fire, but let me tell you . . . Melba can cook! Other than at Terry’s house, I had the best food yet from Melba’s “kitchen!” We had meals of wild tapir (like a wild pig), which one of their dogs killed the previous night; another meal of fresh “tattoo,” which is very much like a Texas armadillo. I drank my first tamarind “refresco,” made from the tamarind tree in their yard.

The best part of the whole deal though, is making life-giving water available to Melba and Ronald (some of the poorest of the poor) in Jesus’ Name, so they don’t have “wheelbarrow-in” their water in jerry cans from another nearby property. Possibly for the first time in their lives, they will have sufficient water available to bathe regularly, for drinking and cooking – and to irrigate a family garden. This well will transform the way Ronald and Melba and their kids live! And I got to be a part of it!

By the way, these are photos of Hugo and Katarina’s completed well, and my new friend, Enrique!

Bolivia Well Clubs

I arrived in Bolivia on the 6th of July, with Sherry remaining at home in Huntington Beach. I’ll be here until the end of August and then she and I will be back together, hopefully never traveling solo again, at least not for these long periods. I’m working with an organization called Water For All (WFA), which is completely focused on getting safe water to the poorest of the poor. They operate on the basis of “well clubs,” where a group of 10 (or so) families each raise about $100, which is the complete cost for a well. This is an astonishingly low cost for a well, which can dramatically change the entire future of a family!

The wells are hand-dug and you can find quite a bit of information on the technology from the WFA website.

Here’s a snippet of how crazy the last couple of days has been as I joined a team starting a well club, where we’ll be digging 12 wells:

We got to the site early Wednesday morning and waited for the water tank to arrive so we could start digging. It finally arrived and as we started to use the water, I noticed this horrific odor! Turns out the tank had previously been used to spray a wicked insecticide to kill a worm that attacks corn or sorghum! But it was the only water available, so we started digging; all afternoon I did most of the actual drilling and got sprayed over and over with water and mud and insecticide! I was covered in it. There was no other way to get the mud off us, so we had to use the water to rinse. Nice, eh?

Since I wasn’t sure how clean the food would be, we had stopped at a market on the way so I could have some protein and at least a couple of cans of clean food. However, the lady of the house (Katarina) had made me a bowl of lunch and set it out for me. Wondering what I should do, I remembered those verses where Jesus sent out the 70 two by two, telling them to take nothing for their journey and to eat whatever was set before them. So I did. It was some kind of concoction with potatoes and macaroni, peas, carrots, and a few morsels of meat served over white rice. After lunch, we worked till almost dark and got the well dug to about 13.5 m (about 40 feet) deep. Dinner was exactly the same as lunch.

We (Sergio, one of the WFA guys, and me) set up tents behind the hut, where we slept, each of us in our own tent. The wind blew all day and night – and then it started to rain in the evening. The temperature dropped pretty dramatically and my tent leaked – at first only a little, then dramatically. I had only a thin flannel “sleeping sac” and two thin blankets, all of which got wet. I can’t remember being so cold in my whole life! Almost everything I had got wet, including most of my clothes. All-day Thursday, we huddled around a fire we made behind the hut, in a hole in the ground, trying to stay as much out of the wind as we could. It rained all day, far too cold and wet to work, so none of the club members arrived to work! We were stuck there, with no means of communication (no cell coverage), and the road too slimy and completely impassable without a 4-wheel drive (the 4 wheel drive in WFA’s vehicle is broken). Breakfast was two pieces of stale bread and 2 small cups of coffee with too much sugar! Lunch was again the same thing as we ate the day before. Dinner, however, was different. Hugo, the husband of the couple we were staying with, killed an armadillo during the night and we had it for dinner! It was great, deep-fried, a bit grisly, but tasted good:–)

One of the guys in the well club sort of took me under his wing. Finding that all my stuff was wet, he decided to help me move to a local adobe hut that was abandoned. It was about a 5-minute walk away from the place we are doing the wells. We carried my tent and all my wet clothes, set up the tent inside the abandoned adobe, then arranged poles attached to wires hanging from the ceiling, over which I was going to hang my wet clothes and blankets. When I got back to the hut where we were digging the well, Katarina and Sergio said I shouldn’t stay at the adobe. First, there is a house next door to the adobe, full of people who are gypsy-like, begging and stealing instead of working (they’re from a people-group called Cambas). They told me that within just an hour or two of having my stuff unguarded, they’d steal anything of value. Second, it is in the adobe walls where beetles live that cause Chaga’s Disease and bites from these bugs are common. I went back and got all my stuff. . .

Hugo and Katarina offered for us to sleep in their hut, which we did. The hut is about 10 feet wide by maybe 20 feet long, built out of scrap wood. The hut has a dirt floor, 2 “windows” and a wooden door that closed with a piece of twine. Inside were three twin beds, a few bags of grain and beans, all their clothing, and a collection of what looked like junk from trash piles. It’s tragic; the two windows have partial screens, with about 1/3 of each of the windows wide open; the walls have boards missing and big gaps and holes everywhere else. The wind blew through it almost as though the walls weren’t even there! Hugo, Katarina, and their baby (Edison) slept in one of the beds, Sergio slept in one and I slept in the other. Even with all my clothes on and several blankets over me, I was still cold – probably because everything was still a bit wet! It’s interesting, they climb into bed with all the same clothes they wear all day, every day. As a side note, I ended up going from Tuesday until Friday with no bath and working hard, sweating, etc . . . Phewwww!

It’s amazing the difference that water makes. You can just look at the way people live and know that their lives are unbelievably difficult. Katarina has to walk about a mile each way to a local school for water for their animals and for cooking; they never bathe! They have some pigs, sheep, chickens, and cattle, but the cattle are out to pasture on a neighbor’s land (a local Mennonite community) because they can’t supply enough water for them. Once they get their well, they’ll be able to bring all their animals back and keep them healthy because they’ll be able to give them water. Water will also allow them to grow the food they need – both for themselves and for their animals. I’m astonished at how much of a life-changer a small well like this can be. Hugo told me, “without water, there is no life!”

I feel incredibly privileged to be able to participate in a process that dramatically changes the lives of folks like Hugo and Katarina. I’ll start another well club early next week – possibly tomorrow if the weather changes and warms up a bit!


So the adventure continues. In grad school, part of my work in International
Development focused on what is called Appropriate Technology. My research led me to a process of hand-dug water wells that could be delivered for around $100. I wanted to know more about this amazing process and tracked down Terry Waller, the inventor of the technology and now the Director of Water For All, International. Terry has been a missionary in Bolivia for over 20 years, where he has dug over 2,000 of these wells and continues to hone the process. This past March, I went to San Angelo, TX (Terry’s US home) for a week-long training on these wells and was invited by Terry to join him in Bolivia where the technology actually started.

I leave early Monday July 5th and will return home at the end of August! If you want to check out where I’ll be, click on this link. We fly into Santa Cruz de la Sierra, then drive about 250 km NW to the village of San Julian, from which we’ll travel to rural villages, drilling wells. This location is between the Amazon Basin rainforest and the Andean highlands, working primarily with the Quechua people. I’m told we will have only dial-up access to the Internet while in San Julian, so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to update.

After my return to the States, Sherry and I will be considering, praying and wondering if perhaps the Lord would have us take this technology with us back to Africa. There is a Ugandan wells project developing now within Water For All, which would complement their existing Ethiopian work. The Ugandan project would be based in an area called Karamoja, in the northeast of Uganda, likely emanating from a city named Soroti. We’d love your thoughts and prayers!

Next Steps . . .

Do you ever marvel at the turns your life takes? I’m sitting in the Kanga coffee shop in Davao City, Philippines, looking at the woman I fell in love with 40 years ago. To me she is even more beautiful today than that day I noticed – really NOTICED her (might it have been that tight green sweater and sparkling green eyes?). I’d known her for several years already, but never dreamed she might “like” me. Then a couple years later as we stood at the altar, no wait, the judges desk (in Walla Walla, WA where we ran away to be married), I couldn’t believe she was truly mine!


We’ve been on a wild journey since that day (Feb 17th, 1972). We abandoned ourselves to follow a Jesus we barely knew and have over the years continued to revel in the power of His work in our lives. We have 3 children who’ve grown into amazing individuals – each of whom married equally remarkable people. In three weeks or so, our 5th grandchild will be born.


And we’re at another crossroads. We have spent the last 7 or 8 years preparing for this next step of the journey. Sherry has been here in the Philippines for almost 3 months, completing an internship as a midwife; after our return to CA, I’ll be leaving for 2 months in Bolivia, hand-digging water wells among the Quechuas with an organization called Water For All. After that, who knows? We’re looking for some direct and clear guidance as to what the future might look like. All we know is that we have committed the rest of our lives to living out (as best we can) God’s word through Isaiah . . .” to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke . . . to share [our] food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when [we] see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from [our] own flesh and blood? . . . and if [we] spend [ourselves] in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then [our] light will rise in the darkness, and [our] night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide [us] always; he will satisfy [our] needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen [our] frames. [We] will be like well-watered gardens, like springs whose waters never fail. . . (Isa 58:6-11).


I invite you into the journey with us!

Hand-dug wells in Bolivia!

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to my blog . . . We’ve been back in the States now since the first of July last year and I’ve been focused on working and getting ready for our next trip. Sherry has been in Davao City, Philippines since February, completing an internship in midwifery. I’ll meet her there at the end of her stay and we’ll return together. After nearly 40 years together, it’s been a real challenge for me to be living alone for these past 7 weeks! Having run away and gotten married at 18, neither of us has ever lived alone – and the longest we’ve been apart is about 10 days or so! I confess, I’m hopelessly codependent with her 🙂

This past March 15th – 20th, I spent with Water For All in San Angelo, Texas, learning about hand-dug wells. The training was interesting, especially since everything that might go wrong . . . DID go wrong. But how better to gain an understanding of what might occur overseas than having to deal with it in the training? I especially enjoyed getting to know Terry Waller and Kim Edlund, the two guys running the Water For All organization. They invited me along for a drilling trip to Bolivia during the months of July and August this year. Never been to South America, but I’m planning to go!

Discouraged . . . ? Maybe not

Well, we’ve been back from Africa just over 60 days now. I’m trying to examine my perceptions and understand why I feel discouraged. It was a great trip. We spent over 2 months in the Sudan, working alongside amazing people. We saw incredible things take place and marveled as God protected us in the midst of extraordinary insecurity – with armed rebel warriors inside our compound multiple times. Temperatures soaring to between 120 and 130 degrees f became common and ceased to be noteworthy. We truly participated in ministry, humanitarian acts of kindness and tasted the bread of everydayness with Sudanese friends. We shared life with passionate and caring folks from all over the world – from Sudan, Michigan, Canada, Georgia, Maryland, Kenya and California.

Wait . . . maybe I’m not so discouraged after all.

Nairobi, Sudan and Mambas

I’m not gonna lie to you. I think I’d rather be in Sudan. In Bor its hot (I think we averaged in the 120’s the whole time), muddy, full of bugs, snakes and scorpions – and oh yeah, people shooting at each other. But Nairobi? Posters in the guesthouse where we’re staying warn that you can basically expect to be mugged, especially if you look like a tourist, so they request you NOT leave the premises after 6:30 pm. And there isn’t a lot I can do to hide the fact that I’m not from these parts ☺ There are millions of people in this city, and I think every one of them has a vehicle that belches 6 pounds of carbon with every lurch forward (of maybe a foot at a time) in the unbelievable traffic. The diesel exhaust lays like a blanket over the entire city.

It is oases like the Mayfield guest house and the people who come here that make visiting this city wonderful. Just tonight we met a young lady who is a nurse, working for the past 2 years at a clinic north of Werkok, in Nuerland, just east of Malakal, near the Sudanese border with Ethiopia. Sherry learned a new treatment for snakebite . . . Tazer! Yes, they treat snakebites with a stun gun! Even the deadly green and black mamba bites are rendered powerless with a few hundred thousand volts! I wonder if they found this out by accident . . .

More later . . .