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Money Down the Drain (or Water Well)…

January 17, 2012

The landscape of Turmi, an eight to ten hour drive from Arba Minch, is beautiful – arid and dusty but filled with short mesquite trees. The scenery looked much like Tucson, AZ (if you don’t count the horrible roads and the fact that we passed giraffes and natives in their traditional garb). It is here, in Turmi, where we visited the well sites that Tom and Teresa want to rehabilitate.

Turmi, Ethiopia

One afternoon, Tom lead us down a dirt pathway (it should be mentioned this is on the church compound in Turmi where this well site is located). About 400 meters down the path we came to a well. The slab of concrete holding the well in place had actually shifted by 2-3 feet from the rain and flooding that occurs during the rainy season. A plaque was displayed prominently on the well naming the donor and date of installation (to include the depth that the well had been drilled). The depth of the well was decent. At least two aquifers had probably been drilled through, but it had been built on a small slope so gravity and rain only spelled defeat for this water well that was only around ten-years-old. As the cement slab shifted it allowed ground water to seep into the well, contaminating the water.

This well was broken, poorly designed, and a site for sore eyes. Below is video of this particular well.

A few questions kept haunting me throughout my time in Ethiopia, “Where was the follow-up from the foreign aid workers who had installed each well? Where were the plans to ensure that this didn’t happen and if a well did break (which they will break down from normal wear and tear) then who is trained to fix the well?”

I won’t name the organization who installed this particular well. I am not here to sniper off organizations, but I will make a very broad statement that I think many aid organizations do a lot more harm than good.

I did a google search on “broken wells East Africa” and very little came back in regards to addressing the broken wells. My search results turned up many articles and organizations who are installing new wells, which is good, but if we don’t look to see what was done in the past (in this instance the many dilapidated wells that scatter Ethiopian landscapes) then we will continue to make the same mistake over and over.

The impact can be significant in rehabilitating wells. I am impressed with Tom and Teresa’s motivation to improve the health of the communities (in the Southern Omo Valley of Ethiopia) and their dedication to what they do. They believe in rehabilitating the broken wells only once a relationship has been established within the community. Tom is currently recruiting men from the local villages to “apprentice” with him (through the help of his partner, Emany) who will learn how to repair and fix wells. Each of his apprentices will be responsible for maintaining the well and they will be able to fix and have access to the necessary parts locally so no third party involvement is needed once the training is complete.


(Emany – Currently partnered with the Rieder’s and Project Ethiopia)

I respect the avenue that Tom is taking in response to the water crisis. It’s a tedious and exhausting process, but one that I believe is sustainable. After seeing broken wells scattered across much of Ethiopia, I have become more cautious and aware of how to research organizations that are recipients of my donations and I challenge you to do more research before you give your money or your time to an organization. Look for sustainable approaches that are about opening doors for the locals rather than quick fixes to big problems. Ultimately, I don’t believe access to clean water is a quick fix. Digging (wells) is easy, but it takes time and personal investment in a community to see real change.

Better yet, if you are looking for an organization (specifically a water organization), then become a part of Project Ethiopia. I’ve seen the work they are doing with my own two eyes. I have laid hands on the broken wells that Tom and Teresa will rehabilitate through the help of the locals and sponsors like you.

For more information on water projects click here or visit www.thewaterproject.org (an organization that I respect and has a sustainable approach with their aid work).

What organizations are you proud to be a part of? What involvement do you feel passionate about?

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