More than 600 million people around the world lack improved drinking water sources, according to a June 2015 UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) report on sanitation and drinking water. The Joint Monitoring Program (JPM) formed by the two organizations has monitored sanitation and drinking water progress since it set the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 15 years ago. The MDGs challenged the global community to reduce the proportion of the population without safe drinking water and basic sanitation by half. Although the global target for drinking water was met in 2010, the least developed countries have yet to meet it.

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What’s great is that much is being done to address that shortfall and the groundwater industry plays a huge role in improving water resource access around the world, including to the least developed countries. A wealth of water well drillers, hydrogeologists and others devote a great deal of time, expertise and resources to communities that have to, for example, travel miles to the nearest stream or river only to gather up water that’s infested with dangerous pathogens.

While the act of helping bring such a vital resource to those without it sounds exciting and rewarding, figuring out what the water well charity process entails, if it’s right for you and how to get involved can be tough. With that in mind, National Driller interviewed three groundwater professionals who’ve been doing this kind of work for years on what it takes to succeed.

For Starters

“It’s tough,” says Michael Campana. “It actually took me a number of years to break in as a volunteer and get myself accepted.” Campana is the president, CEO and founder of the Ann Campana Judge Foundation, which takes on hydro-philanthropic projects mainly in Central America. He says the best way to get started is to join an existing organization that’s already doing the work. Joining a group like a rotary club, church mission or other established initiative will allow you to get a sense of if the work is something you’re interested in committing to long term.

Even if you’re seriously considering the launch of your own organization, Campana says traveling with an existing group first could help you form the connections in another country that are necessary before you kick off your own projects. “You may ultimately come to your own conclusion that you need to set up your own foundation, but I would say to start that right of the bat is probably not a really good idea without a lot of experience in that particular field, because doing work in developing countries is sometimes fraught with difficulties that we don’t encounter here in the U.S. or Canada or the so-called developed world.”

If and when you do end up establishing your own charitable organization, Campana says the process is pretty straightforward. You’ll need to register with the Internal Revenue Service and get their approval. While hiring an attorney isn’t necessary, he says it proved helpful when he was getting started.

Next, you’ll need to select a board of directors. The key to a fruitful board is making sure you choose individuals who complement the knowledge and resources you have when it comes to meeting your charitable goals. “They may not be people in the drilling industry but they may be people who have worked overseas or who have accounting information and also someone who has some juice or power or access to funds,” Campana says.

Then there’s the most important aspect: funding. “That, to me, I think, is the toughest nut to crack in terms of getting support,” Campana says. Monetary resources can be something to look for in a board member. He suggests finding a good proposal writer who could write to other foundations or government agencies. Other options include reaching out to friends and relatives, presenting your cause to civic organizations, or sharing your need in the local paper.

The biggest tool society has at their disposal these days is probably the Web and social media, says Richard Greenly, founder and board chairman of Water4 Foundation, which brings lasting water wells to developing countries. His organization finds value in the fundraising tool on its website, which allows interested parties to raise money for his cause. “That’s probably the easiest way. That’s something you could start tomorrow.” Other than that, he says, it’s just a matter of knocking on doors and finding people interested in water charity.


Speaking of charity, which is naturally how many people view and express the act of bringing water wells to those without reliable water, the concept is a bit problematic, according to Steve Schneider, a certified master groundwater contractor who published “Water Supply Well Guidelines for Use in Developing Countries.” He says his objective isn’t to go to developing countries, drill wells for them and return home; it’s to teach them how to do it themselves. “I can impact more lives teaching somebody to fish than I can going and fishing for them and it’s true in well construction.”

Being a “do-gooder” is great, Campana says, as long as the people you’re trying to help are invested in your efforts and want to help themselves. “If you go in there and say, ‘I’m here to drill you some wells,’ and they kind of say, ‘Well, yeah, drill us some wells,’ and you drill them some wells, I guarantee when you come back in six months it’ll be out of service. The pumps will be broken, the people will be back to drinking dirty water,etc.

Greenly says getting the locals engaged is extremely important and that charity is a part of the problem in the developing world when it comes to water resources. He says there are hundreds of thousands of broken water wells in Africa alone and that without a mechanism to keep them maintained, tens of thousands of dollars are being wasted by charity organizations and their goals of bringing potable water to the world aren’t being achieved in the long run.


Sustainability is huge for Campana. He’s developed a local point of contact in Honduras who lets him know when a new community needs water. The Ann Campana Judge Foundation provides the money and the design, but the local people do the drilling. “They get guidance from us, but if they’re not enthusiastic and the men say they don’t want to work in the rainy season, then we say, ‘Well, I’m sorry we don’t do that,’ ” he says.

An indirect approach to water well charity is something Schneider takes pride in as well. He leads well construction workshops where he teaches the technicalities of designing and building wells to the people of developing areas. This year he held two workshops in Malawi over the course of a week. 

The need for education isn’t limited to the well construction aspect though, Schneider says. He spends a good chunk of time teaching people why their current conditions are not good and why they need improvements to water resources. He says the majority of those he meets don’t have proper expectations for water quality because they don’t necessarily realize how much better it could be. For that reason, helping them see the room for improvement gives them motivation to help themselves.

For example, the people of the Malawi community he recently visited were using dung in place of drilling fluid and didn’t think anything of it. Through a water sampling presentation, he was effective in getting the message across that dung is an unhealthy option. “We were able to provide the slides of the results to the whole audience... The dung, it was almost filled with dots and this was after it had been super chlorinated to try to kill the bacteria. So that was kind of an eye-opener.”

Greenly also views teaching as a vital step in the charity water well process. Water4 trains people to drill. The foundation has one manufacturing facility and training facility in Ghana and one in Ethiopia. They use the location to manufacture rigs and pumps, train drillers, sell supplies, share contracts with franchise drillers and offer drillers loans to carry out drilling contracts. “It’s a complete market-based approach,” Greenly says. “It’s way different than anything else that’s out there.”

He says that without a monetary incentive tied to water there will always be broken wells and a water shortage in Africa. His model puts the solution into the hands of the local people who get to manually drill wells as a vocation. Since they’re trained to drill and repair wells, the villages are able to preserve the water sources over time. “There has to be economic development tied to these wells or we’re just going to continue to drill $10,000 wells and they break,” Greenly says.

He says the economic development model can come in the form of drilling agricultural irrigation wells for farmers, where they have a monetary interest in keeping the well running because it keeps their crops growing. Since Water4 emphasizes the manual drilling of wells, they are able to drill at a much lower cost, just $1,000. “[The farmers] can’t afford a $10,000 well but they can afford a $1,000 well,” Greenly says. “So we’re putting mechanisms in place where they can go get a loan to get the money to hire our drillers to come drill them a well and then they pay the loan back by the increased crop production.”

The second way that you can tie money to a well, Greenly says, is by charging villagers a nominal fee for the delivery of the water. For example, by charging $0.02 to $0.05 per 5-gallon can of water, you create motivation to keep the well maintained and running because people get to make money off of it.

Technically Speaking

There are also important technical aspects to be mindful of when taking on a water well charity project.

Language: Communication is absolutely vital for anyone addressing a need as big as clean water for a group of people and in areas where English isn’t spoken. Teaching can be tough, but it’s possible, Schneider says. “During our driller workshop we actually had a translator that the university there helped line up and it was excellent, didn’t delay it that much, the guy was great. … The translation’s often difficult, especially in technical terms. For instance, [my well construction manual] is in five languages right now. French has been the most challenging because of the technical terms. When it was first translated by a professional translator, they used the wrong word for ‘well.’ ”

Supplies: Another thing drillers should mentally prepare themselves for is the fact that tools and equipment aren’t typically at a supplier around the corner. “The first time I had the drilling trip in Panama, just trying to find good quality drilling mud was a nightmare,” Campana says. “I went all over that place looking for drilling mud and some of the stuff I found looks essentially like someone threw some clay into a bag and called it mud.”

Demonstrate: From his experience with training, Schneider says it can be difficult to put together a workshop that keeps the attendees’ attention the whole way through, but that a hands-on teaching approach helps. “Don’t just go there and lecture. Absolutely do not do that. Have demonstrations. We do drilling fluid demonstrations, we do chip bentonite hydration demonstrations, we have PowerPoints and things like that, but we also ask if the locals can participate.”

Method: Drilling means and methods are as diverse as can be, according to Schneider. He says, just like anywhere else, geology is usually the determining factor. However, he says manual drilling is more cost-effective in this kind of work. “Field accessibility is important. That’s where manual drilling is much more portable if it can be done, if the geology is agreeable. This is stuff that can be put on public transport even or manually carried in. It doesn’t require trucks so if the village is out in, as they say, Timbuktu, this might be an option if the geology is acceptable to that kind of method.”

Bringing water wells to those who need them doesn’t just take a good sense of best practices; it takes a certain kind of person. This isn’t for everyone, according to Campana, who says it takes a great deal of patience, resourcefulness and humbleness. He says it’s important to avoid making promises you can’t keep. “Don’t tell people, ‘Yes, I’m going to find drinking water for you,’ because maybe you won’t find it and then when you don’t find it they’re going to be terribly disappointed. … It’s OK to say, ‘I’m going to do the best I can to find you water. I can’t guarantee it, but I’m going to do my best.’ ”

No matter how tough the process becomes and how unsure you may feel at times, the finished projects make it all worth it in the end. “The people are genuinely grateful and thankful, so in that sense, that’s when the doing good pays off,” Campana says. “That kind of makes it all worthwhile when you see them happy and holding up a glass of water and holding it up as a toast.”