Water Charity Drills Down to Get to Know Real Needs

November 1, 2016

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

FIXING A HOLE: Well Aware staff and volunteers in Kenya examine an old open well where several children died collecting water. The nonprofit later drilled a well that eliminated the need for young people to climb down into the contaminated one.

When a friend recruited Sarah Evans to raise money to buy livestock for a village in Kenya, she did some research. She learned that unsafe drinking water was to blame for the deaths of residents’ goats and cows — and for other problems in the community.

"I proposed that we instead drill a water well," Ms. Evans says. Only one in seven boreholes in that region strikes water, she says, yet the plan worked. "It was really reckless and irresponsible, because knowing what I know now, we got really, really lucky."

Well Aware, the Austin, Tex., nonprofit that grew out of that project, now works much more closely with the people it helps, learning what they want in a water system and how they want their communities to grow.

"As opposed to popping over to the other side of the world and letting them know what they need," says Ms. Evans, the group’s leader, "we take a lot of time to fully understand what it is that they want and then try to work out a solution based on that."

For example, in a nonagricultural town, water-distribution points should be clustered among homes, she says. But in communities that rely on farming, it’s important that the points are located where people can also get water for livestock and their fields.

"Not understanding those cultural pieces will cause discord within a community and can ultimately lead to either a water system not being cared for anymore or being vandalized," Ms. Evans says. "We’ve seen water tanks that have literally been shot through."

In seven years, the charity has built or repaired water systems in 31 areas of Kenya, initially reaching more than 125,000 people. So far, all of the systems are still in operation, and some communities have seen their population grow because they have a reliable source of clean water.

Written by Nichole Wallace; Send an email to Nicole Wallace

Subscribe to the Chronicle of Philanthropy here to read the full article.