A Universal Sound

by Shelton Owen

Hope. Fear. Joy. Pain. These emotions have no borders or bias, no specific target or scope. Every race, gender, culture, and religious group is familiar with these essential human emotions. How enlightening is it to realize that we are all connected, each one of us at the mercy of our innate emotional responses? Third grade teachers don’t pass out books titled What is Pain?, yet each of us could pass the pop quiz on the signs and symptoms experienced when tragedy strikes.

As I have been preparing for my upcoming service trip to El Salvador, I’ve found myself worrying about how I’ll connect with the people of this nation whose lives seem so starkly different from my own: their Spanish to my English, their poverty to my privilege, and their homes 2,532 miles away from my Kentucky life. However, as my team was recently packing up the clothes, hygiene items, toys, etc. that we will be distributing, the missing piece of the puzzle locked into place. Whether I say “Good morning” or “Buenos días” isn’t important, it is the love and service I have to offer that will truly forge a connection. I’ve heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words” countless times, but it wasn’t until now that I realized that this phrase I never paid any mind to is actually very applicable to my current situation. Though our lips may speak different syllables and sounds, our hearts are programmed to sing a similar tune. Who doesn’t feel the warmth of a smile? Who doesn’t swell with gratitude when they receive a thoughtful gift?

Author Deepak Chopra once wrote, “If love is universal, no one can be left out.” “No one” means not the men and women of El Salvador nor the men and women of Niger. The 17 million people of Niger who don’t have access to adequate sanitation, those people are should not be left out. Wells Bring Hope turns “can’ts into cans and dreams into plans” by constructing wells that provide clean water. Change doesn’t happen when we comment on the injustice of 10,000 children dying every year from diarrhea and disease associated with unsafe water, the difference is made when steps are taken towards a solution. The funding of close to 450 wells, the training to ensure well maintenance, and the micro-financing of women to start small businesses-that is what speaks loud and clear for all the world to hear.

The sound of love and progress bounces off the walls and echoes through the nation, fostering hope for a better tomorrow and increasing our motivation to keep fighting for to ensure that everyone has access to basic human rights like safe water and adequate sanitation. Neither Africans nor Americans require a translator to interpret this message of empowerment.

“People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.“-Maya Angelou

In twenty years, as clean water splashes against the skin of a young girl in Niger, refreshing her after a day in the sweltering sun, Wells Bring Hope’s legacy will live on. The gift of education is a gift that keeps giving from generation to generation as women in WBH training programs pass on the lessons learned to their daughters and set a living example of self sufficiency. Give the gift that never goes out of style-the gift of love-by jumping on board and joining WBH’s efforts today!

 

Grocery Day

by Jennifer Dees

You know when you get home from the grocery store, and you realize that if you put five bags on each arm, you won’t have to make another trip? And then you struggle with the doorknob because you somehow always forget there’s a door? And when you finally drop it all onto the counter, your arms have red marks and your fingers have already gone numb?

Count yourself lucky that the walk was only from your garage to your kitchen.

In Niger, West Africa, it’s the women and girls who are responsible for walking miles every day to find water. If the sources they’ve gone to before haven’t dried up, they return carrying gallons of water. That effort causes severe pain, not to mention the hours walking in over 100 degree weather.

Back at your home, imagine you discover the bananas have turned brown, the bread is moldy, and the cans of soup have flies in them. Of course they go straight in the trash.

Meanwhile, 61 percent of Nigeriens would be surprised to discover clean water. The brown water only serves to hide the dangerous contaminants, which lead to disease, birth defects, and death. In fact, 1 in 7 children in Niger die before the age of five. Mothers give this water to their children knowing it will may make them sick, but they have no other choice.

You return to the store, file an extensive complaint, and return with fresh food (probably not from the same store). I tend to go overboard when I shop without a list, picking up whatever looks good. There are so many options; I can get pineapples and avocados in places where they don’t grow.

In some places in Niger, it rains as little as two centimeters annually, which makes it difficult to grow food most of the year. Most people survive off livestock or food from markets, something that is unfeasible for a family with little income. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the average Nigerian eats a thousand calories fewer a day than the average American. Many women would love the opportunity to grow and sell their own food, but without enough water, it’s simply not possible.

When you’re done shopping, you have the rest of the day to work, spend time with loved ones, or pursue other interests. You probably don’t plan on grocery shopping again for at least a week.

The process of getting water takes up nearly half a day in Niger, time the women could be using to earn money or care for their young children, and time the girls should be using to go to school. According to a UNESCO report, only 62% of Nigerien girls completed primary school in 2015. The African Bureau Information Center reports that, on average, girls who were enrolled in school drop out within five years. With the daily burden of retrieving water, the women and girls of Niger lose much of their freedom and hope for future generations.

Wells Bring Hope’s mission is drilling wells to provide clean, safe water to Nigerien villages, but that is just the beginning of the transformation. We educate villagers on sanitation and hygiene practices. We provide well maintenance training to community members to ensure sustainability. We help the women to establish savings groups, and we provide them with micro-finance training. Armed with that training and the time that they no longer spend walking for water, the women start their own small businesses, including selling produce grown with water from the new well. Girls can return to the classroom. In short, entire communities are transformed.

These are goals that you can help achieve. It can be easy to take resources for granted when they’re just a quick drive away at the local supermarket. To help yourself and your friends understand a little more about what it’s like for people in Niger, you can start a Water Circle. All donations go directly to drilling wells that immediately start improving the lives of everyone in the village. And with your help, we can give a generation of Nigeriens hope for their futures.

 

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Bringing Clean Water to Niger

by Michelle Wolf

It’s difficult to imagine living a life without clean water. In First World countries, clean water is a basic need that is accessible and taken for granted. Clean water is an assumed right. Cities are held accountable for collecting and filtering water before that water enters homes. In places like Niger, clean, safe water is not assumed. What should be a basic human right is often privilege, a luxury that can’t be counted on.

Board member Ida Harding has been associated with Wells Bring Hope since the beginning. She was with the founder Barbara Goldberg when the idea was planted during a presentation by former Los Angeles district attorney Gil Garcetti. Ida has traveled to villages in Niger on several occasions and witnessed first-hand the positive effect clean water has on the population.

Within a year of its inception, Wells Bring Hope had raised enough money to drill 10 borehole wells in Nigerien villages. After the wells were drilled, Barbara and Ida, along with a small group of other women, were inspired to travel to Niger to see the results of their work and to personally experience what it’s like in a village without safe water.

The Nigerien women that Barbara and Ida met during their visits have overcome unfathomable challenges. On one trip to Niger, they met a woman who had watched 11 of her 12 children die from illnesses that could have been prevented if clean water had been available. On another trip, they met a woman who had to choose between walking for hours to retrieve water for the village and caring for her three-year old daughter who was dying of diarrhea.

Woman getting water from dirty stream.

In villages without safe water, homes are often made of limber straw. Fields are bare and families have no crops or livestock. Children’s faces are caked with dirt and dust.

The difference clean water makes is immense. The threat of diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses is eliminated when a well is drilled. Girls who once walked hours to fetch water are able to attend school. Women prepare meals with clean water, are able to spend more time with their children, and with the micro-financing training Wells Bring Hope provides, they can use their newly available time to start small businesses. Buildings that were once made with straw are can be built with strong bricks. The children are healthy and clean, and villagers are happy.

Young women celebrating new well.

Today, Wells Bring Hope has funded close to 450 wells. The services we bring to villages have directly affected more than half a million lives and will continue to do so for generations to come. Please consider donating your time and, if you are able, money to Wells Bring Hope. 100% of all donations go directly to well projects that provide the basic need of water to Nigerien villages.

 

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Million Dollar Round Table Foundation Grant

Through its charitable giving, the esteemed Million Dollar Round Table Foundation aims to build stronger families and communities around the globe. Wells Bring Hope supporter Judd Swarzman is a member of the Million Dollar Round Table, and on Sunday, June 11th  he and his wife Linda presented WBH with a $10,000 grant from the MDRT Foundation. This is twice the amount that was awarded to Wells Bring Hope in 2015. (Note that organizations are permitted to apply every two years.)

This award was presented at Wells Bring Hope’s Donor Appreciation Dinner and it was acknowledged by over sixty of its most valued Los Angeles-based donors. It was the only grant presented at that time.

Wells Bring Hope is proud to be the beneficiary of a generous grant.  Along with $1,200 from other donors, it will provide two rural villages in Niger, West Africa with the life-saving gift of safe-water wells. We are deeply grateful to the MDRT Foundation for the incredible work that they are doing around the globe.

We are very grateful to both Linda and Judd for initiating this grant and advocating for it. They have been loyal supporters of our cause and we greatly appreciate their support. We are proud to be the recipients of this grant.

Donor Appreciation Dinner

Wells Bring Hope was thrilled to honor over sixty of its most generous Los Angeles based donors with a memorable dinner on June 11th. It was an opportunity to say “thank you” to those who’ve been so generous in helping us save lives with safe water.

It was held at the Bel Air home of founder and president, Barbara Goldberg. The Japanese garden was a perfect setting for a relaxed sit-down dinner that began with wine and hors d’oeuvres at 5 pm.

The event was created and prepared by Board member Ed Keebler, a chef, restauranteur and entrepreneur and it was a very special gift. Although it was not the warmest of LA evenings, our guests didn’t let that take away from their fun and enjoyment. With great gourmet food, including Ed’s special cavatelli with pesto Genovese and grilled lamb chops, we feasted joyfully.

Founder and president Barbara Goldberg welcomed guests and expressed our appreciation for their on-going support, noting the many ways in which they help us—hosting an event, providing matching funds, grants, honoring a loved one, including us in their estate plan, serving on the Board, all so greatly valued. Barbara was also thrilled to announce that Wells Bring Hope has received a $10,000 grant from the Million Dollar Round Table Foundation, something that would not have been possible without the support of Linda and Judd Swarzman.

Treasurer Larry Johnson, who initiated a $1million Rotary grant for Niger, spoke movingly about his recent trip and the strong connection that he felt with both local Rotarians as well as the rural villagers he met. The discovery of his genetic connection to the people of sub-Saharan only intensified his profound experience of Niger.

Sam Jackson of World Vision began by praising Barbara Goldberg for her tireless work on behalf of and dedication to the people of Niger. Sam then thanked all of the guests for their support of Wells Bring Hope and their commitment to safe water. Finally, Sam also urged the group to keep up their efforts as we continue to work toward the goal of eradicating water insecurity throughout the world by 2030.

No Wells Bring Hope event would be complete without a few words from the man who inspired our cause, Gil Garcetti. Gil was appointed as Cultural Ambassador to UNESCO in 2014, and he spoke about his work traveling around the world as an advocate for safe water, a role that he is more than well suited for.

The evening ended with guests waiting for a fresh-from-oven chocolate chip cookie to take home—scrumptious!

Please head over to the Wells Bring Hope Facebook page to see the album of photos from the event, tag yourself, and share the pictures if you like. Even if you don’t have an account, you can see all of the photos here.

Finally, special thanks to Michelle Chan who coordinated the whole event and to the volunteer team who helped make the dinner a great success!

Culture of Health

by Emily Johnson

Growing up, I was a small child. Healthy-looking to any passerby, I was active, hyper, wide-eyed, and smiley but again, noticeably, even exaggeratedly, smaller than other kids. I was short and scrawny, with knobby arms and legs.

I ate a lot during childhood, anything in arm’s reach— vegetables, red meats, starches, fruits, glasses and glasses of milk, vitamins and liquid ferritin (iron), water like a race horse for over a decade— but my growth spurt wasn’t coming.

As I got older, I developed symptoms, enough to make a constellation, ranging from constant intestinal pain and bloating to rashes, migraines and depression and extreme physical and mental fatigue. Doctors chalked it up to iron deficiency and being a teenager who ran herself into the ground. I had all the resources a child needs to be healthy, but I was nowhere near it.

Empower a woman, empower a community. Over the years, child health in Niger has seen slight improvement in part because of community awareness sessions which Nigerien women attend faithfully.

The eventual answer I found, at the age of twenty, is that children with Celiac disease do not absorb the nutrients they take in. Because it took twenty years for a specialist to realize my body’s systemic failure, my intestines were unable to take in the nutrients of the food I ate, in order to then build and sustain my body 

Safe, clean water is essential to a functional public health system and having clean water was something needed by me along with nutrients growing up. Although my condition would not have significantly improved if I had safe water or not, for the majority of children growing up in the developing world, clean water is essential for starting off life in a healthy way.

When we relinquish responsibility for failed clean water programs, public health is unattainable. When water sanitation is removed from the public health sector, water becomes a privilege rather than a right.

Women with their children in Niger.

Health must be viewed as a system with many interconnected parts. A functional health system cannot be achieved without easy public access to a reliable source of clean water and sanitation services for all. In other words, if an individual does not have safe and accessible clean water, seeing as many doctors and specialists as possible will not resolve health problems.

 

 

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Gratitude of a Graduate

by Shelton Owen

As I soak up the bittersweet last moments of my senior year of high school, I sense my departure for college inching closer. The school year has been packed with applications, scholarship essays, and an abundance of rigorous preparations for the next chapter of my educational career. It wasn’t until recently, when prompted by a scholarship application, that I thoroughly considered the question, “Why do I want to attend college?” I have never really thought of college as an “option.”  It was always just the next logical next step: high school, college, possibly professional school, job. That was the path laid before me, my path for success.

When I sat down with my hands on the keyboard to describe the benefits of college, both personally and professionally, I began to grasp the magnitude of the blessing I am about to receive. The mere fact that I am a female with such wide open doors to the future is no small thing. Susan B. Anthony would be dumbfounded and elated if she knew that not only can women vote, they can now run for president of the United States.

Here I am at eighteen, with the world as my canvas. The brushes and colors I will use are entirely up to me. Though empowerment courses through my veins, humility runs alongside. From research, travel, and my work with Wells Bring Hope, I’ve acquired a global mindset that no longer allows me to live in my own little bubble. The harsh reality of gender inequality in nations such as Niger pops that bubble of oblivion right open.

According to the UN Human Rights Index, only 17.1% of Nigerien women between the ages of 15 and 24 are literate. To add to that, the net enrollment ratio of young women in secondary school is a minuscule 9.6%. Put another way, less than 4% of Nigerien women receive any secondary education. In fact, the average girl in Niger receives fewer than five years of formal education. These devastating statistics are due in no small part to the fact that in villages without a well, it is the women and girls who spend hours every day walking for water. The enormous burden leaves little time for education or income-generating work.

High school, which I grumble to wake up early for, is a privilege denied to the vast majority young women in Niger. I imagine that there are many girls in rural Niger who would be thrilled to wake up early if it meant the chance to sit in a classroom. When girls are denied an education, they tend to marry and have children at a much younger age. This contributes to Niger’s high rate of maternal mortality. Of course, when women lag behind in education, their options in life are limited and they remain dependent on their fathers and husbands. Microfinance training programs like those provided by WBH, empower women to stand on their own two feet and unlock a realm of independence once sealed shut by tradition, social prejudice, and a lack of education.

As I prepare to begin college classes this fall, I will give thanks to pioneers like Susan B. Anthony who pushed the boundaries, persevered, and paved the path of success for future generations of women, including myself. I will think about the progress still to be made, and I will give thanks for organizations like Wells Bring Hope that are pushing forward to create new opportunities for the women and girls of Niger.

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Water, Taken for Granted

by Rita Brhel

I live in the middle of America’s heartland — Nebraska — surrounded by a sea of corn and soybean fields, most of which are irrigated for the entire growing season. Even the crops that aren’t irrigated still yield enough to provide the farmer with ample income to live on.

I live atop one of the largest underground caches of water in the world. The Ogallala Aquifer stretches from the South Dakota-Nebraska border south through the Texas Panhandle, running under seven U.S. states. We have no shortage of water here, not for community use and not for farming. My hometown, Hastings, sees an average annual rainfall of 28 inches with an additional average annual snowfall of 29 inches. I have never known what it’s like to not have easy access to abundant, clean water.

My husband, however, has. He grew up in the southeastern portion of Nebraska, which does not have access to the aquifer. There, on a cattle farm, his family had to time their use of water — whether for drinking or bathing or washing dishes — between when the cows came to the barn to get water. There was not enough water in their well to provide for all the needs in their house.

Yet, my husband’s family still knew more water most people in Niger do. My husband’s hometown, Lincoln, sees an average annual rainfall of nearly 29 inches with an additional average annual snowfall of 26 inches. While southwestern Niger may receive up to 23 inches of precipitation during the May-to-September rainy season, northern Niger sees an average annual rainfall of just 7 inches and the desert regions of Eastern Niger are lucky to get 3/4 of an inch of rain a year.

The only place in the United States with a comparable lack of rainfall is Death Valley in California, which sees an average annual rainfall of 2 inches. Even the driest U.S. state, Nevada, sees more precipitation than Niger at 9-1/2 inches of rainfall each year.

As if that’s not enough, severe droughts regularly hit the country, causing serious, life-taking famines.

We, Americans, simply cannot even imagine what it’s like to live in Niger — it’s not just dry, but most people there have to walk for hours a day to find water, which is often contaminated. When each day’s goal is just to survive and there is often not enough water to meet the human consumption needs, it’s not feasible to reserve water for irrigation. But this only creates a self-perpetuating cycle — no access to clean water…widespread water-borne illness…just surviving day-to-day…no water for food crops…famines…hunger and death…disempowered people continuing to drink and use unclean water…repeat.

By drilling a well, Wells Bring Hope breaks this cycle. Water-borne disease is eliminated. There is enough grey water left over from baths and utensil cleaning to use drip-irrigation for village gardens. This allows villagers to, grow not only enough food for themselves, but also enough o trade or sell to others for a profit. Families ,and by extension entire communities are empowered and the cycle of poverty is forever interrupted. In short, lives are transformed.

Help Wells Bring Hope to bring more hope to communities in Niger. Every cent raised goes toward drilling a well, and every dollar raised is matched by World Vision to provide sanitation and hygiene education, micro-entrepreneurship training, and community building. What you donate today will grow exponentially over the next fifteen years.

Start a Water Circle today to change a village of lives tomorrow.

 

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Monthly

by Michelle Wolf

It happens every month and every month I forget to grab a few tampons from under the bathroom sink. Thankfully, there is a gold basket in the ladies’ room at work with a few sample packs for me to use. And I can always find an ample supply of tampons in one of my extra purses. I don’t have to worry about staining my clothes or having a clean place to dispose of them. These are products that I can easily find, afford and purchase in bulk. When I walk down the aisle at the store I am overwhelmed by the abundance of choices. But I know which brand I prefer; the brand that is most comfortable to me. I feel a tinge of embarrassment as the cashier, a teenage boy, rings up my tampons. This feeling quickly goes away as he swipes the box over the scanner and places it in a plastic store branded bag.

It’s easy to stay clean and feel fresh during my period. I bathe daily. I change my menstrual products throughout the day, whether they are soiled or not. Soap and water are easily accessible. Public restrooms are safe and clean. Water and soap are available when I swipe my hand under a faucet. Any stains can be quickly washed away with cold tap water, and a run through the washing machine.

We learned about menstruation in elementary school. We are told it starts during puberty and continues through adulthood. Our school teachers tell us it’s natural and normal, not something to be ashamed or afraid of. There are feminine hygiene product commercials on national television. Commercials that depict happy, healthy woman who are able to enjoy their everyday routines and activities thanks to the comfort and confidence that these products provide. I am able to openly and comfortably talk about my period with my mom, husband, and friends.

Young girls in the villages of Niger

A 2013 UNICEF report on menstruation hygiene standards at primary schools in Burkina Faso and Niger details a very different experience. 84% of schools in Niger do not have a water source or functioning bathroom. Water is brought over from nearby villages in large jerrycans, and students bring their own soap. Menstruation hygiene is next to impossible in these conditions. Bathrooms are not separated by sex and do not lock, so many students don’t feel safe or comfortable cleaning themselves at school and often miss class in order walk home to clean. In fact, they may skip school altogether. An astonishing 23% of females drop out of school once they begin menstruating. This only serves to exacerbate the stigma around menstruation.

There are no standard teaching guidelines on menstruation education. Schools do not lecture on menstruation hygiene, nor do teachers feel comfortable discussing this with their students. Students do not understand what is happening when their first menstrual cycle starts because there is a severe lack of education due to social stigma.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. Napkins and tampons are imported from other countries in Africa and are priced as imported products. Women cannot afford to buy sanitary products and use old rags instead. Rags used during menstruation are not easily cleaned. Washing machines are not a household appliance in Niger. Water is something that is sought out and hunted for. Women walk 10 hours a day in search of water and may not be able to spare water to clean a small rag. Water is critical for cleanliness and sanitation during this time of the month.

Water is a crucial element to the hygiene issues affecting women in Niger, and something us women don’t think twice about in the United States.  While menstruating women are seen as “impure” or “dirty” in the communities of Niger, the simple gift of water would give them the opportunity to flourish by providing sanitation, comfort and support. The resource of water can provide women an education and ultimately a job.

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Children on the Market

by Shelton Owen

Hama Amadou, President Mahamadou Issoufou’s opposition in Niger’s 2016 election, was sentenced to one year in jail following a long-running baby smuggling investigation. The former candidate has been living in France for the past year after fleeing Niger just days before a run off, citing health concerns. The prosecution claimed Amadou was among a group of criminals who smuggled babies into Niger via Benin. Amadou’s lawyers claim the sentence is politically motivated and unjust: a way to prevent him from running for office again. The smuggling incident stems from the negative stigma attached to childlessness. In recent years, wealthy couples have turned to “baby shopping” as a means to compensate for the wife’s inability to conceive. Couples would look for a baby in Nigeria then have them transported to Niger.

Child trafficking is one of the highest paying criminal activities worldwide. Adoption trafficking, though faring better for the child than sex trafficking or child servanthood, still strips the child, and possibly their birth parents, of basic human rights. The African orphan crisis traces back to the continent’s high poverty rates. Parents are being tricked into signing away their children to orphanages with the belief that the setup is temporary, only lasting until they can regain stability. Unfortunately, manipulators such as Amadou capitalize on the system’s weaknesses and falsely claim parenthood of these children, only to sell them for profit to the highest bidder.

 

Campaigners demanding an end to the human trafficking crisis (africacheck.org)

 

Going to such great lengths for a baby may seem absurd for those of us in the U.S. who have adoption, foster parenting, and other methods of parenthood. However, the instance points to a larger issue in African culture. A couple without children is thought to be cursed or to have angered the spirits, giving them an obvious mark for all of society to scrutinize. African culture places strong emphasis on religion and views children as a gift from God, only amplifying the stigma surrounding childlessness. Though the World Health Organization reports around 50% of infertility cases are due to the man, it is solely the woman who takes the heat the majority of the time. Wealthy couples have the privilege of seeking different methods of parenthood (though it may not be legal), but the less fortunate don’t have that option. The most frequent effects on the women are distress, lowered self-esteem, depression, and raised anxiety levels. In some cases, the husband divorces his wife or takes another. For developing countries, such as Niger, fertility drugs and IVF are expensive and limited. The issue often stems from infections such as STDs, which are common due to inadequate healthcare, improper use of antibiotics, and penicillin-resistant strains of gonorrhea.

Wells Bring Hope empowers the women of Africa, regardless of their motherhood status. Through micro-financing and education training programs, women can find their niche in society, fostering a sense of self-confidence and purpose. The women’s increasing responsibility in the community chips away at the expansive gender gap dominating many aspects of daily life. Small steps like this nudge the nation towards the goal of women being viewed as equal partners versus inferior servants. Those with children have the chance to contribute to their family’s income and sustain a stable home life, reducing the threat of having to put a child up for adoption.

Women in Niger utilizing a WBH well

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