The Revenge of Water

by Barbara Goldberg

In the July 29th issue of “The Week,” one of my favorite publications, an eye-opening article appeared with the above title, excerpted from a book by Charles Fishman, “The Big Thirst.” “Water warriors” like me and others spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the lack of safe water in the developing world. But what about water in our own backyard? Was there a time in the history of the United States when people died of unsafe water? Absolutely. And what did we as a nation do about it? Plenty. Unfortunately, many governments in the developing world can’t afford to help their people adequately and so they suffer.

The following excerpts from the above mentioned article are noteworthy:

In the decade from 1905 to 1915, as dozens of water systems around the U.S. installed filters and chlorination systems, we went through a revolution that profoundly improved water, and human life, forever. Between 1900 and 1940, mortality rates in the United States fell 40 percent.

How much did clean water matter? Simple filtration and chlorination of city water supplies reduced overall mortality in U.S. cities by 13 percent. Clean water cut child mortality in half. From 1900 to 1940, U.S. life expectancy at birth went from 47 years to 63 years. In just 40 years, the life span of the average American was extended 16 years.

That first water revolution ushered in an era—the one we think we still live in—in which water was unlimited, free, and safe. And once it was unlimited, free, and safe, we could stop thinking about it. The fact that it was unfailingly available “on demand” meant that we would use it more, even as we thought about it less.

The figures are dramatic. In 1955, the U.S. Geological Survey said that rural Americans without running water in their homes used 10 gallons a day per person. (That same year, each cow used 20 gallons per day.) For newly “electrified” farm families, with pumps, and for city families, that number was already 60 gallons per person. Today, it’s 100 gallons per person at home.

The ease with which water enters and leaves our lives allows us an indifference to our water supply. We are utterly ignorant of our own watermark, of the amount of water required to float us through the day, and we are utterly indifferent to the mark our daily lives leave on the water supply.

Right now, 40 percent of the world’s 6.9 billion people don’t have easy access to clean water. By 2050, there will be 2.4 billion more people on the planet. They will be thirsty.

The three things that we have taken to be the natural state of our water supply—abundant, cheap, and safe—will not be present together in the decades ahead. We may have water that is abundant and cheap, but it will be “reuse water,” for things like lawn watering or car washing, not for drinking; we will certainly have drinking water that is safe, and it may be abundant, but it will not be thoughtlessly inexpensive.


by Amanda Silver-Westrick

Imagine if, here in the United States, all of the water pipes in your house
disappeared one day. Now imagine that the only way to get water for the
household was to make a daily two-hour trek on foot to the closest river. Your
daughters, your mother, and your sisters were suddenly responsible for this task,
and you helplessly watched them walk away in the mornings with empty buckets.

Your female family members would start to develop health problems from the
walk itself, including neck and shoulder pain from carrying heavy containers
of water. When in dire need of water, you might have to send your young
daughter to the river alone, and she might encounter snakes, wild dogs, or other
dangerous animals. Sexual predators might also frequent these paths, knowing
that young women pass by every day. And as you helplessly watch the females of
your family walk home from their long journey laden with the heavy weight of their
sloshing buckets, you would feel the pain of knowing you had no choice but to send
them out tomorrow and every day after that.

This nightmare is a daily reality in most of rural Africa. The search for clean water
is all-consuming and arduous, and mostly unsuccessful. Once the women reach
Africa’s rivers and lakes, they often have no choice but to fill their buckets with
brown, murky water, teeming with parasites and bacteria like schistosomiasis
and cholera. Development projects that bring clean, accessible water to African
villages eradicate more than just water-borne illnesses. They also help to keep
local women safe and healthy.

Why Clean Water for Africa

by Pete Brach

Why is providing clean water so important and why Africa? First and foremost,
water with pathogens kills 4,900 African children per day. This translates into
more than one child per minute! This is a travesty considering that clean water
for the people of Africa significantly improves health conditions, combats hunger,
increases educational opportunities for allows girls to go to school, frees up
time for women to establish small businesses and cumulatively improves the

It is astonishing that one third of Africa’s population has no access to clean
water. Almost two-thirds have no access to proper sanitation. The result:
widespread suffering from malaria, typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea and other
diseases. Using global statistics as a benchmark, the occupation of an estimated
50% of all hospital beds in Africa results from waterborne diseases!

Women and girls in Niger, West Africa break their backs walking miles a day to
fetch water, water so dirty that no one living in a developed nation would dream
of giving it to their children. For these women, their only choice is to give their
very young water that may be contaminated and pray they survive!
Grim statistics state that one out of four of their children will not live to see their
5th birthday. 40% of the population has trachoma which, when left untreated,
leads to blindness. Some will be victims of guinea worm – an extremely painful
condition; a worm, sometimes several feet long, lives under the skin.

Wells Bring Hope!

A quote from our President, Barbara Goldberg: “…in some small villages in Niger
there is hope. Drill a well 300 feet into the ground and lives are transformed
instantly.” When a clean water well is drilled in a village in West Africa,
tremendous joy abounds. They see it as a miracle and hope for their future. You
can see it in the video on our Home page.

Some quotes from that video

“When we started pumping water, the chief of the community, he is eighty years
old…when he saw water coming out from that pump, he started crying. He was
saying that he could not imagine in his life that one day his village would get
clean water like this.”

“Everything will be alright now that we have got good water. We won’t be sick.
Our children won’t die.” (From a woman who lost 11 out of 12 children from
contaminated water.)

“Now we are so happy, it cut out more than half our work.”

“Now we don’t have to ask our men for money.”

“In Africa people say that to educate a girl is to educate a whole nation.”

A donation of $30 provides one child in Niger, West Africa access to a
clean water for 30+ years!

Our Founder


After her first child was born, Barbara Responsive Research, Inc. and spent over thirty years as a marketing consultant to Fortune 500 companies including Bank of America, Coca Cola, American Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, General Motors, General Mills, IBM, and 3M to name a few.


Barbara had a son in 1975 and moved to Los Angeles where she continued to work and raise her family.


In 1993, she founded Salon Forum, a non-business venture, to bring the many women she knew together for monthly events in her home that supported personal enrichment and connection. After a feature article on it appeared in The Los Angeles Times in 2007, Salon Forum’s mailing list grew to over 800 women.


In February, 2008, former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti spoke to the women of Salon Forum. His powerful works about and moving photographs of the water crisis in West Africa and the plight of women and girls touched Barbara deeply. An email the next day to the other women in the audience confirmed what she suspected – many felt a desire to take action. With little thought about how what she was doing might impact her life, Barbara jumped in with both feet and told Gil that the women of Salon Forum were taking up the clause.


A native New Yorker, Barbara began a rewarding career in marketing and advertising on Madison Avenue in the era of “Mad Men.” and has a few of her own stories to tell. Early on, a pioneering opportunity came along in the area of new product development in a stimulating “think tank,” trailblazing in the area of consumer research.

Since beginning Wells Bring Hope in 2008, Barbara has devoted her full time to saving lives with safe water in West Africa.

Barbara believes strongly that life can take surprising twists and turns – she had always been open to walking down a new path. As a risk taker with an adventuresome spirit, the idea of taking up a cause that inspired her and others seemed like a natural step, despite the fact that she was approaching a time in life when most people are thinking about retirement and slowing down. Barbara saw WBH as an opportunity to use the skills she had honed in her career to help make a difference in the lives of others.

Barbara has always valued her freedom, taking time to travel to remote, far-off places for relaxation and adventure. A relatively late grandmother of three girls, she came to understand why friends talked endlessly about their grandkids. As the head an almost all-volunteer organization of mostly “20-30-somethings,” she values the opportunity to mentor and support a great team of water warriors.


Beware of Do Gooders Bearing Money and Gizmos

by Cindy L. Kurland

The recent “Frontline” expose of much-trumped PlayPumps International’s failure compared to the quiet success of Wells Bring Hope is an excellent example of the wrong way and right way to do something. It also illustrates how a daffy idea can grab the media’s attention, attract big name support and money, waste millions of dollars in the process then crumple and die.

The brainchild of Trevor Field, described as “a billboard executive in South Africa,” the idea was to use roundabouts (a merry-go-round-like piece of playground equipment that children run next to and then jump on) to pump water into an above ground storage tank. The four sides of the tank would have advertisements and public service announcements that would support the maintenance of the pump.

Amidst great fanfare that included, ironically, an inspiring, feel-good segment on “Frontline,” then First Lady Laura Bush gushed about PlayPumps, the United States donated $10 million, the Case Foundation gave $5 million and rapper J-Zee performed as part of a $60 million fundraising effort.

In contrast, Wells Bring Hope (WBH) was rather quietly founded in March of 2008, by a small group of women, after hearing acclaimed photographer Gil Garcetti describe the West African water crisis, chronicled in his recently-published book, Water Is Key: A Better Future for Africa.”

As of March 2010, Wells Bring Hope has funded 34 wells in Niger pronounced (knee zhare5) selected because, according to the UN Development Index, it is THE poorest country in the world.

The two extremely divergent paths taken by PlayPumps and WBH explains the demise of one and success of the other.

After carefully researching NGO’s working on water in West Africa, Wells Bring Hope partnered with World Vision, because they had 20 years’ experience successfully drilling wells in that region. PlayPumps relied on the “Save the Children” Foundation, which had no expertise in this field, to handle its drilling in Mozambique.

World Vision doesn’t begin drilling before the village invests a small amount of their own money in the project and the chief forms a committee of village elders and women to administrate the well. Villagers pay a small amount for the water, which goes toward the well’s maintenance, and people are trained to repair it, so they take full ownership of their well.

A key element in PlayPumps’ failure is the very daffiness of the proposal. Everyone loved the novelty of the idea—having water pumped as children play–but

– No body bothered to determine how much spinning on a roundabout was needed to supply a village with water—“The Guardian” newspaper estimated that 27 hours of “play” per day was needed to provide the targeted daily water needs of 2,500.

– And, nobody actually observed children (without the presence of cameras) to see just how long any of them played on a roundabout—one observer said “the kids hated the pump and it was chore.”

Another flaw was PlayPumps’ reliance on advertising revenue which, logically, directed well construction away from the poorest, neediest areas. Jean Case, writing about the error of donating $5 million to PlayPumps, acknowledged that they “perform best in certain community settings, such as at large primary schools.” Another observer determined that a large school setting was the only appropriate application.

After a WBH well is drilled, World Vision continues to work with a village for 15 years, training people to administer and maintain the well and educating them on proper hygiene and good sanitation. In contrast, PlayPumps drilled wells and then moved on, leaving the villages with no infrastructure or plan for maintaining something that, unlike standard wells with hand pumps, required unique knowledge and parts that are not readily available.
After extensively reviewing the massive failure in person, a colleague of hydrologist and hydro-philanthropist, Michael E. ‘Aquadoc’ Campana concluded in “Hydro- philanthropy” that a number of things can be learned from PlayPumps’ failure:
1) appropriate, sustainable technology is critical;
2) locals need to buy in and have ownership;
3) think things through before acting;
4) if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (replacing functional hand pumps in some places); and
5) beware of do-gooders bearing money and gizmos.”
Not surprisingly, the above “conclusions” are the bedrock of Wells Bring Hope and World Vision’s approach to providing safe water in the developing world.

My Sweet Journey to Senegal

by Amanda Silver-Westrick

Last summer, I lived in Senegal, West Africa, for two months. I lived with a Senegalese family, took sustainable international development classes with local university students, and conducted personal field research on water issues in the rural town of Guede-Chantier (“Geh-day Shon-tee-ay”).

Guede-Chantier is a small village in the northern-most region of Senegal. It lies on the Doue River, very close to the Mauritanian border. The town has about 7,000 inhabitants total and is 100% Muslim. Working with a group of five other students researching water-related topics, I interviewed over 250 men, women and children.

In Guede, fetching water is always the responsibility of women, and locals explained that the Koran instructs women to obey their husbands and therefore bring them whatever they need, including water. The walk to fetch water from the river can take up to four hours a day.

Young girls drop out of school at a much earlier age than boys because they are expected to stay home to help their mothers fetch water and do chores. Also, the women get water-borne illnesses, including schistosomiasis and cholera, much more often than the men, because women spend more time in the river; they wash clothes, fill buckets with water, and bathing children. These findings made me realize, more than ever before, that female empowerment and clean water accessibility in developing nations are irreversibly intertwined.

My African voyage was intense and full of ups and downs. I think it’s just the nature of the trip. It was hot and dusty and foreign, and both emotionally and physically exhausting. But some moments were absolutely precious and will stay with me always, held carefully close to my heart to forever remind me about the important things in life.

One of these took place during an interview with a group of influential men in the community. They explained that the open wells were drying up faster than in previous years, and that many families were getting sick from the river water. By this point, many of us researchers were growing disheartened, overwhelmed by the many obstacles to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the end of the discussion, we gathered ourselves and thanked them for taking the time to speak with us. One of the older men, with warm, perceptive eyes and a grandfatherly smile, told us: “We welcome you into our village and our homes. We know that you’ve come from very far away to help us. You come with love in your hearts, and we’re so very excited to have you here.” I almost cried, but instead smiled and shook his hand with both of mine.

Annual Summer Volunteers’ Summer BBQ

It was a perfect L.A. summer day in a Japanese garden, and the mood of serenity was overshadowed by the excitement of knowing that our combined efforts have funded 63 wells and three more coming soon.

On hand to celebrate with us was the inspiration for our cause, Gil Garcetti, who talked about his recent trip to Niger with supporters, Ken Kilroy and his son Ross.

We were also thrilled to meet one of our newest volunteers, Hadiara Diallo, on the right below, who was born in Niger and talked about her childhood experiences there. (To read about them: Susanah Ngwuta, a volunteer for over a year, and from Nigeria, also writes on this blog.about her experiences growing up in West Africa.

Our Director of Marketing, Pete Brach, talked about the importance of going onto our Facebook page and “sharing” the contents with their friends, and helping to spread the word. On hand also was Jennifer Duarte, Director of Special Events, right, and Bex Dumler, who works closely with her.

Struggling to Find Clean Water in West Africa

by Hadiara Diallo

As you wake up every morning, part of your daily ritual will include turning your faucet on, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, making a cup of coffee or tea then heading out for work. Where I was born, Niger, West Africa, the morning ritual begins at dawn, grabbing a container or bucket, and heading for the nearest water source to start the day. In rural areas, most women and young girls begin the day by making multiple treks to the local pond so that the household can have water for drinking and cooking. Showers and laundry are done by the pond after the water supply quota has been met for the day.

This backbreaking job is what all young girls throughout Africa face as their destiny. It is determined more by where they are born and certainly what gender they are. Fetching water is a matter of survival and it has also become part of the shackle that holds back many girls from being educated and empowered. Clean water is more than a physiological need, it is a conduit for empowering women not only in our village, but throughout Africa and the world.

If you take a quick look at the geography of Niger, what is striking is the fact that it and much of West Africa is landlocked and lacks access to sustainable clean water. One river crosses the whole country of Niger, yet that river passes through only the southern tip of the country thus making other regions vulnerable to an arid desert and capricious rains that only last less than three months of the year.

When it rains, ponds and “marigaux” as we call them, spring up outside of villages. As the dry season sets in, those ponds dry up and force women and young girls to walk further and further for a chance to fetch a brown, muddied murk of water. This water is shared by animals and human beings alike as it is one of the most precious commodities in my homeland. This same water is also the source of many water-born diseases that can be prevented if only one can ensure clean water to the rural population.

I was very fortunate to be born in the capital of Niger, Niamey, and was thus spared much of the hard work suffered by my cousins living in rural villages. During summer breaks I used to go visit my maternal grandmother in the region of Tera. At a young age, I was struck by the dismal difference between the fate of my maternal cousins and that of my paternal ones. Access to clean water and education was the stark difference.

One set of family lived by the river Niger while the other had to walk 2-3 kilometers to the nearest unsafe pond. Access to school for my maternal cousins was 20-30 kilometers away while my paternal cousins were no more than 6 miles away from elementary and secondary schools. As my female cousins were too busy helping my aunts with the daily chores, they were also systematically denied a chance at an education and the subsequent feeling of empowerment that comes with it. Lack of an education also means getting married as a pre-teen—11, 12 or 13 years of age. Isn’t that hard to imagine? Early marriage generates another set of issues such as obstetric fistula, which occurs when a girl delivers at a young age, before her body is mature enough for the task. Early marriage also accounts for maternal ill health and high rates of infant mortality. Studies have proven that education tends to delay marriage in the developing world, and thus can prevent many of these problems.

I am aware that all the ills in Niger, and other parts of Africa, cannot be resolved in one day, but am convinced that the work being done by Wells Bring Hope is essential in bringing relief for my woman folk, health for entire villages by giving people access to clean water, and crucial education for a forgotten segment of society—women. By offering long term, sustainable solutions that involve the participation of village members, Wells Bring Hope will insure safe water for many years to come. I urge you to lend your support to bringing clean water to villages in Niger.

Journey to Niger

By Barbara Goldberg

Have you ever experienced pure joy and heartbreak in the same day? That would describe our first trip to Niger in January, 2009. Six of us spent a week visiting remote villages in the bush, reached by very rough dirt roads, two hours away from our base in the city of Maradi, an 11 hour grueling drive from the capital, Niamey. One village we visited did not have safe water. Of the rest that did, all but one were villages where we had drilled wells within the previous six months.

Our first visit was to Garin Maikaka, a village with no safe water. Their water came from two traditional wells, one worse than the other. It was an eye-opener for us and the place where we felt the greatest pain and sadness, especially for the women.

We knew that in many parts of Africa, women walk miles every day, (often more than once a day) to find and carry water on their heads. What we didn’t fully understand was the physical pain and hardship that women experience when pulling up water from a traditional well.

There are things one needs to see firsthand to get the full impact, and this was one of them. To obtain their first water of the day, women wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning. As one women said, “I’m always in trouble when I hear the cock crowing. I have to rush to get water.”

Why? Because after a while the water stops flowing, and she will have to wait several hours until it fills up again. Sometimes they sleep on their way to or near the well, filled with tension about whether they will get enough water. When we saw the water they pulled up, our stomachs turned. One of our two translators said that it was water she’d expect to see in a gutter, water not even fit for animals.

The children in Garin Maikaka were dirty, and looked unhealthy. Pus oozed from their eyes, noses dripped, flies swarmed on their faces. 40% of the people in Niger have some stage of trachoma, which often leads to blindness. Trachoma comes from poor sanitation and not having clean water to wash the hands and faces of children and adults. Flies landing on an infected eye can contaminate a healthy eye. Trachoma can spread quickly.

We had heard about guinea worm before we went to Niger. A village chief, a victim of it for thirty years, confirmed its horror. A worm, sometimes a foot or more in length, actually lives and grows in the body, causing excruciating pain during the rainy season, making it difficult for people to work. Extracting it is difficult and often ineffective.

One of the most memorable women we met was Halima who lost eleven of her twelve children, from contaminated water. We talked with a mother holding her child who had diarrhea, having nothing to wipe her with other than a stick.

Women are so overburdened that they do not have time to properly care for their children, prepare food, wash their clothes, or play with them. They work non-stop and are continually stressed, exhausted, and age before their time.

The tragedy is that they know their lives could be better if they had safe, clean water. They prayed for it, and when it came, as it did in Garin Maikaka at the end of the week, they were exuberant. We were fortunate to witness another well coming in at the village of Miyaki. We witnessed a geyser of water spout high into the sky, the children running under it with pure joy.

We couldn’t help but join in and celebrate this life-changing moment. We will never forget it! We were there with the women as they lined up their jugs, waiting to taste the gift of the first clean water.

In the villages where we drilled wells, we were welcomed like rock stars. Chants of “Nagode, Nagode” – “Thank you.” “Thank you” filled our ears. As a “thank you” gift, we received chickens and even a goat!

To find out what happens over time when a village has safe water, we visited Dan Faro Korae, a village that got its first well in June, 2006, long before we had started our project. What impressed us most was what the women had created for themselves. Through the Micro Financing Enterprise Development Program started for them by World Vision, they became a village of entrepreneurial women.

We talked with the program leader, Zenabou, who had 107 women working with her making peanut oil, (the way Zenabou, in her own words, “got rich”), millet cakes, raising goats, chickens, or selling eggs. When there were problems, the women came together, talked, and found solutions-women helping women! We understood what Zenabou meant when she said that because of their financial success, the women no longer had to ask their men for money. The power had shifted; they felt pride in what they had accomplished and enjoyed their newfound freedom.

What we found interesting was that the women aspired to be like “women in the city,” women who didn’t have to work so hard, who had a nice wardrobe of clothes, who could shop in stores and choose from a variety of fruits and vegetables in the local market. As in many parts of the world, women acquired new clothes as a measure of their success. Their colorful outfits and jewelry were striking against the stark landscape of a typical Niger village.

What impressed us about our partner, World Vision, is the respect, patience, and kindness that they show to villagers. We witnessed a community meeting, attended by the village chief, elders, and the women, who were encouraged to express their needs regarding ways to improve their quality of life. Giving the villagers a say in what will happen empowers them to take responsibility for their future.

We left Niger, newly inspired, dedicated to drilling more wells to bring safe water to more villages. We hope that this has inspired YOU to open your heart with a generous donation.


Do Women’s Empowerment Laws Work in Niger?

by Jessica Wiseman

Women living in Niger, West Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world,
are busy fighting to survive. The goal of women’s empowerment and equal rights
often seems unreachable when the odds are so heavily stacked against them. In
Niger, it is not uncommon for women to be beaten and raped by their husbands,
fathers, and brothers, but sadly, women see this as a normal part of their lives.
While the laws of the state reprimand violence against women, it is the practice
of such behavior that sets the law of the land. A woman typically cannot even tell
her own mother about such mistreatment.

Centers created to empower women through knowledge of their rights and
access to health care have not been much help. Women in Niger fear that if they
seek out these centers, they will face the stigma of society. They do not seek
help for fear that their safety will be further threatened.

Niger does not record statistics on rape or violence against women. When a
woman goes to a clinic to seek medical help they record her injuries but not the
cause. In many cases, women who go to the police are given no help. Further,
officers may, in fact, subscribe to the idea that the women have been beaten for
a reason, offering no support. Niger is not alone is such treatment of women.
Further problems exist in the marriage and divorce laws. The youngest age a
woman can legally be married is fifteen years of age. It is estimated that 62% of
girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen had the legal status of married,
divorced, or widowed. According to Nigerian laws, both the woman and the man
must give their “free consent.” However, this is often not respected. In rural
regions of Niger, girls between the ages of ten and twelve are often married and
the mother-in-law becomes their new guardian. With polygamy being legal, one
third of marriages in Niger are polygamous.

Only a man can be the head of a household. When a woman’s husband divorces
her or if he dies, she cannot take over her husband’s position. Inheritance is
equal according to Nigerien law yet, according to Islamic Sharia law, a woman
can inherit only half of what a man receives. Ownership laws allow women to
buy, sell, and own property. However, tradition dictates that only the head of the
household can own property and so these laws serve no use.

Other factors prevent women from gaining true financial independence. In Niger,
only 15% of women are literate while 43% of men can read and write. Not being
able to read makes it difficult to understand their rights, sign contracts, or take
other steps toward empowerment. A staggering 81% of men have jobs with legal
pay while only 7% of women can say the same.

If a woman is educated and aware of her rights, then she is able to assert herself and
apply for a loan to start a small business or buy property. But once again, the
weight of custom makes such an endeavor highly unlikely.

While many steps have been taken to liberate the women of Niger, only 13%
have seats in the National Assembly. Greater empowerment of women will come
when equality is not only written, but practiced.