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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You wake up to sun through your bedroom window, realizing the room is warm, even hot. Your legs feel sticky from sweat. Your eyes are sticky, too, from sleep. It feels as though the ceiling fan only pushes heat around in circles. To the AC panel you go.
You squint, fidget with the rubber buttons, and manage to set the temperature below 70 degrees. You open the window for now and breathe outside, in. But you are still hot, still sticky, and what you want more than fresh air right now, is water.
You go to the sink, without a second thought, and pull the lever in the diagonal direction of ‘cold.’
What comes from the lake or the ocean or the river, filtering through whole reclamation plants, through systems and tanks and pipes and engineering, is this steady stream of water. The sound is as immediate as the pull of your hand on the lever, the mouth of the spout is brimming and you will drink fresh water, for the umpteenth thousandth day of your life.
It is April of 2017. And Flint, Michigan, still does not have clean water.
As often as we fill our glasses this statement can be heard passing through college classrooms and Facebook Vox videos, one year and four months into the city-sanctioned State of Emergency.
I write this Flint, Michigan, still does not have clean water from my Chicago apartment, 285 miles from the City of Flint Water Plant. What would be a 4-hour-and-28-minute drive. A drive I have not taken. A drive the majority of us have not taken. Because for most of us in the US, water just is. It’s always there, constant and dependable. It astonishes us that lead could be allowed to poison this community of almost 100,000 at all, let alone that once discovered, it would continue for so long. Still, it’s not long before the breaking story is no longer astonishing, and news becomes commonplace. Activism is endurance.
President Peter Gleick of the Californian nonprofit Pacific Institute, dedicated to global water accessibility, writes that “we currently use on the order of 960 cubic miles (4,000 cubic kilometers) of freshwater a year, and overall there’s enough water to go around. [However,] there is increasing regional scarcity.”
Flint is surrounded by the Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of Earth’s fresh water surface—in other words, 6 quadrillion gallons of water. This seems far from a regional scarcity, yet the system is not in place to harness and utilize this necessary resource to sustain life. What Gleick notes is that there is enough freshwater for all, but it is a matter of ensuring the proper systems for access and availability to specific communities (whether regional or otherwise).
It is a 21-hour-and-ten-minute journey, flying and driving, from Flint’s Water Plant to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niger’s capital, Niamey. Across mountain ranges and vast ocean, still entire communities go without sanitary water, experiencing a scarcity that need not exist. Niger borders the Sahara Desert and, coupled with scarce rainfall, the result is a startling 64% of rural Nigeriens without adequate access to clean water. However, drilling localized wells harnesses the existing water underfoot. Drilling wells is not simply symbolic for tapping potential—in this case, accessing what is available allows entire communities the inherent right to sustained health, the inherent right to take care of oneself and each other, the inherent right to work and play and thrive. The inherent right to access what is available a couple hundred feet below the earth’s surface.
Africa is a huge land mass, made up of 54 nations, 1.1 billion people, and some of the most iconic wild regions on earth.
Yet, as mind-blowingly beautiful as the pictures in our minds are of the savannas, the Sahara, the rainforests, and the pyramids, our thoughts often turn dark when they turn toward the people inhabiting this second-most populated continent. Africa is often recognized primarily for its regions of extreme poverty, the AIDS epidemic, frequent famines, and broken infrastructure.
Those challenges exist, but the people of Africa are resilient. They are creative problem-solvers, innovators, and dedicated change-makers. Wells Bring Hope believes passionately in community-driven solutions that free people from the burden of worrying about the most basic of needs.
Wells Bring Hope works because the tools we bring to communities in Niger depend on local engagement. The process begins with the basics: latrines. When paired with education and social pressure, the use of latrines quickly stems the contamination of groundwater by human waste.
Niger is the poorest country in the world. More than 40% of Nigeriens earn less than $1.25 per day, and life expectancy is limited to 55 years old. 61% of the people in Niger do no have access to clean water, and 96% are unable to have or unaware of good sanitation practices. This is a hard country to live in, but latrines are a solid first step toward better health for the people and their communities.
After we have helped the community to build latrines and begun the training on basic sanitation, we drill a well. This multi-day process is completed by professionally-trained locals and the water produced by the resulting well is lab-tested for contaminants.
We require the formation of a committee that will oversee well maintenance. This committee consists entirely of locals, half of whom must be women. Women in these communities typically do not have a voice in village concerns, so putting women in this kind of a leadership role is ground-breaking for the local culture. We’ve found that when women are involved in community affairs, the needs of the whole family becomes a priority.
Having a source of safe water in the village immediately eliminates the need for women to spend hours walking to a water point up to 6 miles away to provide for her family. She is safe from the dangers of rape during her water walks, and her children are not left home alone. Her daughters, who otherwise would accompany on her water walks, have time for education. Schools are reinvigorated.
Better still, every woman in the village now knows that the water she brings home won’t make her family sick. The risk of death during childhood from contaminated water is reduced by a whopping 70% when a well is drilled.
That is no small feat.
But we don’t stop there. Wells Bring Hope stays with each community for 15+ years, building upon the foundation we started with access to safe drinking water.
We recognize that changing generations worth of habits is tough. We train locals in sanitation and hygiene practices, particularly hand and face washing as well as water container and utensil cleaning. As a result, 50% fewer children die from diarrheal illness, and childhood deaths from respiratory infections drop by 25%.
We go on to teach drip farming, an irrigation technique that uses wastewater leftover from baths and utensil cleaning. This enables the women to grow vegetables and grains that improve the families’ diet and helps to ward off starvation during times of famine. In every village where we drill a well, we set up savings groups and provide the women with microfinance training that allows the women to become micro-entrepreneurs. They are able to use the time once spent walking for water to develop small businesses, and as a result, their self-confidence increases as does their influence within their homes and communities.
Positive social change is contagious. The structure of the culture changes, and the beginnings of a new Niger is borne.
This is what your small donation can do.
Every well costs $5,600 to drill, and every cent raised by Wells Bring Hope goes toward a new well. World Vision matches every dollar we raise, one for one, and during the next 15 years, contributes an additional $30,000 toward sanitation and hygiene education, micro-entrepreneurship training, and community building. This means that what you donate today will transform into an exponential growth over the next 1 1/2 decades.
Start a Water Circle today to change a village of lives tomorrow.
On March 8th, women around the world celebrated their femininity on International Women’s Day. The special day, observed since the early 1900s, is about recognizing the progress achieved while looking ahead to opportunities of advancement. Women have made great strides in the past century, socially, politically, and economically, but the battle is far from over. In 1908, great political unrest drove 15,000 women to march through New York City demanding better wages, shorter hours, and the right to vote. Today, gender pay gaps from the most advanced nations to unfathomable injustice in lower-income nations, drives us to keep walking, though our feet may be weary.
The women of Niger are all too familiar with the consequences of such an expansive gender gap; a divide so gaping it engulfs many of their aspirations and basic rights. According to our-africa.org, “The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that two-fifths of all African girls are married before the age of 18. In some countries the proportion is much higher. For example, in Chad and Niger, a third of young women (20-24) said they were married by the age of 15.” With marriage generally comes the termination of the woman’s education and beginning of her role as a wife and mother. Becoming a mother at such a young age is a high risk. With Africa making up 11% of the world’s population, Africa accounts for more than 50% of maternal deaths. Busy with motherhood and taking care of household tasks, such as seeking sanitized water, there is little to no time or motivation left to dedicate to a career. A limited education constricts the career options available to the woman and increases her dependency on her husband to serve as the provider. The wells built by WBH is just the start of empowerment waiting to spread like wildfire.
Before a well is drilled, a committee of villagers is formed to maintain the well and promote hygiene. The group of 6-7 usually consists of 3-4 women, giving them a meaningful role in village life. Wells Bring Hope gives Microfinance support to the women of Niger through a program involving educational instruction, hands-on practice, and eventually an independent career. Role models like Joyce Banda, the first female President of Malawi, are a promising symbol of hope for the future, a future in which women and men will be equal partners, working to make the world a better place.
Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first female President
The campaign theme for 2017 is “Be Bold For Change”; therefore, I encourage you to do your part today by empowering women in Niger through your donation to Wells Bring Hope. Take a stand and speak up for your sisters across the globe being told to shut up and sit down. Say it loud and say it proud–“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”