Wells of Life held its second annual Gala and Auction on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at the Mission Viejo Country Club. Guests enjoyed no host cocktails and appetizers, a seated dinner, entertainment by the Aniar Academy of Irish Dance, and a silent and live auction. One of the live auction items was a painting entitled, "New Life at the Water Well", contributed by South African artist Toni Danchik. Toni received a lifetime achievement award for her work with organizations that uplift Africa. "I have always given of my time and treasure," Toni said, "but now I feel especially fortunate to be able to use my gift to paint as a tool to give back to Africa."
One-hundred-and-sixty-four guests were in attendance, supporting the non-profit’s goal of building 1,000 wells in 10 years throughout Uganda. Over $100,000 was raised toward this goal; at $6,000 per well, that’s 16 more new wells for the communities of Uganda.
Wells of Life president and CEO Nicholas Jordan was ebullient as he talked about the vision that was birthed in his heart to bring clean water to the people of East Africa.
“I would walk with my mother to a water well about half a mile from the house, and help her bring water each day. And even at four years old I was aware of how physically demanding that was.
“Fifty years later I took a trip to East Africa, and saw the very same stress and strain on the faces of women there. It was a very clear moment of understanding within my own spirit that this was what I was put on this earth to do: and it was to lift up the cause of clean water as a basic human right.”
The average American rises each morning, walks into their bathroom, and turns on the tap or the shower. There is rarely a thought given that clean water will not be immediately delivered through our pipes, or to the one-third of Africa's population that is not so fortunate. Wells of Life seeks to educate the Western world about the blight in East Africa and how we can be the catalyst for change.
According to the World Health Organization, 780 million people lack access to a proper water source. There are over thirty known water-borne diseases varying from bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, including typhoid fever, cholera, and dysentery. Diarrheal disease is responsible for the deaths of 1.8 million people every year. It is estimated that 88 percent of that burden is attributable to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene. In East Africa alone, one in five children under the age of five dies as a result of diarrheal disease.
"The absence of water is simply the taproot of poverty," Nicholas said. "Because without clean water you have disease, infection, and you have lack of attendance in school. You basically have a lifecycle of poverty that continues from generation to generation. "
While a fundraiser of this kind can garner substantial sums of money, Wells of Life seeks to build awareness and activism through three main avenues: families, schools, and corporations.
Michelle Yegsigian, advisory board member over education introduced the concept of the $6 Solution. "We're going to kick off our $6 Solution push, and we're going to try to get people to do ongoing donations. So, $6 a month, multiply that times a 1,000; if we get a thousand—which I know we could do by the end of the year—that's $6,000 a month, or one well a month."
Any contribution to Wells of Life is quantified in not just the building of a well, but in the lives the well saves. "Life and death is really in the power of the availability of water," Nicholas said. "So right now, after drilling 92 water wells, and therefore serving 92 communities, and bringing clean water to 92,000 people, we can count in the tens of thousands the lives that we have been able to save."
Providing physical water in Uganda is in direct correlation to the provision of spiritual water in the U.S. "It begins with informing our young people here in America, where there is a chronic lack, in my opinion, of spiritual water," Nicholas explained.
Michelle concurs: "What we thought we would do is besides putting physical water in Africa, we wanted to help with spiritual water here in the Western world. That was the main reason for involving the students."
Michelle and Nicholas go around to schools to inform and educate on the lack of clean water in Uganda, and Wells of Life's goal of 1,000 wells in 10 years. Michelle continued, "We are invited to different schools to speak, and then Nick gets up there and tells them all about what it's like for a child when they wake up in the morning, and compare it to their life. And they are automatically moved to give, there is no second thought about it."
Leighton Mauze, a junior at Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, Tex. was so moved by the cause that she wanted to create a club to raise funds for a well. Wells of Life invited her to the fundraiser to tell her story.
"I was in chemistry last year, and my chemistry teacher told us about the cause, and put the [Wells of Life] website on the projection screen, and just showed us that like, 4,100 kids a year die globally from not having clean water," Leighton said. "So I'd gone up to her after class and said, I want to change this, I want to lower the number, and would she be my sponsor for a club next year. She said, 'Yes!'"
Leighton's club now has 100 members, and they are raising money for wells by selling T-shirts. Another fundraiser the club has planned is a "Howdy Night", where people bring food to donate, and the food is then sold for the profit, with the proceeds going toward the club. Leighton also has a school bake sale and a car wash in the works.
Leighton's sister Dorsey traveled to California to support her sibling, and the cause. "It's kind of overlooked and taken for granted by everyone [in San Antonio]. We really don't think about how much water we're using. Water has always been readily available for us, you turn on the faucet and there it is. [Leighton] and Michelle have told me about how these women in these small African villages are having to walk four plus miles a day just to get water. So I think it's a great cause and it's needed there, obviously."
Michelle desires to see a replication of Leightons and Dorseys. "Our goal here is that not only will they become aware, but they will also learn about philanthropy, and encourage their peers. They will actually sit around the table, face to face with each other, and learn how to brainstorm together, and work toward their own unique fundraiser. And then we'll let that multiply from there.
"Any kid can do it. They spend that much on one trip to Starbucks two or three times a week."
Wells of Life also seeks corporate sponsorships to contribute to the student's fundraising efforts. "This way we're all encouraging community to work together," Michelle said.
Eithne Keegan, advisory board member and philanthropist, was also a lifetime achievement award recipient. Eithne has spent over 11 years in Africa, doing humanitarian work in the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Africa. A registered nurse by trade, Eithne spearheaded the opening of a school of nursing in Northern Kenya. "[The school] just graduated their first group of students," Eithne proudly proclaimed, "and they've been named the top school in Northern Kenya. So I've been involved quite a bit in education in Africa."
In 2012, Eithne led a group of volunteers on the first Wells of Life mission trip in 2012. These individuals had opportunity to see the work done in the villages where wells have been placed, and met the people whose lives are being transformed, one well at a time.
"That was absolutely wonderful," Eithne gushed. "We were met in Uganda by children. They were coming down the street about two miles from the school, waving palm branches, walking us in. Because, you know, that was one of the first wells that we put in there. That was just so awesome to see them appreciate what we had done for them."
Volunteering with Wells of Life is another way for an individual or a group to give toward the cause. Able and willing hands and feet are equally as valuable as money. "The requirements are just to have a heart for the work. To be able to travel physically, and emotionally to be able to handle the poverty there. Because that's what we have, we have poverty there," Eithne explained. Wells of Life is planning a second mission trip for November of 2014, and is seeking volunteers who can give their time for the cause of clean water in Uganda.
In the "Parable of the Sheep and the Goats" in Matthew 25, Jesus tells the crowd, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Advisory board member Peter Callahan put into perspective the simplicity and the weight of fulfilling that call.
"I got nothing against fancy coffee places, but every morning I decide if I should get coffee at the place near my office. I get my non-fat latte no whip with a double shot of caramel--it costs about $4 bucks. Okay, for $4 bucks a day, in four years, I can drill a well in Africa where people are gonna live decently for their lifetime. We have to make decisions about what we leave, and what people remember about us."
To learn more about how to volunteer and contribute financially to Wells of Life’s work, visit their website.