Mission Picture

Mission Picture
We're in Africa!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

All is "WELL"

Many people have asked us what we are doing with our time in West Africa. (Mostly our kids ask us what we are doing here.)  Our main focus in Liberia has been providing clean drinking water for people who can't afford to provide it for themselves.  Most of the people outside of Monrovia, Liberia
obtain water from swamps or ponds like this one.  Often, women and children walk several kilometers to a pond and carry buckets of dirty water on their heads, back to their homes.  Part of our job here is to find good communities that need clean water and then arrange for them to have a well.

 We have a man working for us whose job is to locate communities that need clean water.  He is called a community developer.  When he finds one, he will discuss the location with three other parties, a contractor, a site supervisor and ourselves.  We will all visit the site and if all four of us decide the location is a good one, the community developer will go back to the community and tell them how they can qualify to have a well in their neighborhood.  Qualifying is pretty simple.  The community must have a track record of maintaining their neighborhood.  For example, hauling away their trash.  They must be able to collect $8,000 Liberty Dollars (about $100 US dollars) from members of the community and open a bank account with it.  The money is not for us.  It will be used in the future for maintenance of the well.  They must select a committee of at least 5 persons who will be willing to oversee the operation and maintenance of the well when it is finished.  The committee will consist of a chairperson, a secretary, a treasurer, a hygiene trainer and at least one caretaker.  They must also be willing to pay for the water they draw from the well.  Last but not least, someone in the community has to give us a spot of ground on which to dig the well.  When a landowner signs away their rights to the ground where the well is to be located, they lose that piece of property forever and it becomes community property.
Liberia has an annual rainfall of 200" so there is a lot of water in the ground.  Dug wells rarely need to be deeper than 45'.  The good contractors know by looking at an area and by talking to the residents if  a good, producing well can be dug there. The well digging process is an interesting one.  The men doing the digging are always short, wiry and muscular. 

 This well is about 36' deep.  The worker is going down to set the first culvert in the correct position.  As the well is being dug, notches are cut into the side walls
 of the well hole.  The worker descends into the well by using those notches for hand and footholds.  For balance, he hangs onto a secured rope with one hand.

The well is dug, the culverts are all cemented in place, the pipes are installed and a row of cinder blocks are laid to form a footing for the concrete apron. 
The apron is then poured, the pump handle is installed and a lock and chain are attached to the handle to prevent it from being used before we turn it over to the community.  Notice the red steel jacket on the pump.  It is there to prevent a "rogue" from stealing the pump. 

After the apron is poured, the community is responsible for building the wall around the pump.  The wall is constructed of cinder block and plastered over and then a gate is installed in the opening.  The wall and gate help with sanitation by keeping out the dogs, goats and chickens.
We have learned that if a community invests time, money and labor into a project they will have more of an interest in caring for it.

The completed well, painted and lettered.


These are three of the men who are instrumental in so much of our work in Liberia.  On the left is John Cooper, one of our best contractors .  Everyone calls him "Big Cooper".  Can't imagine why.  In the middle is John Moore, one of our site supervisors whose job is to monitor the construction of our projects to ensure everything is done properly.  The man on the right is Morris Wanakandu.  He does the community development and hygiene training for each of our water projects.

At the opening ceremonies of a well dedication April was presented with an African gown and head wrap.  The woman on the right is a leader in the community and the woman on the left is Senator Joyce Freeman.  She is the senior senator of the largest county in Liberia and as such, is one of the most influential lawmakers in that country.  She is very supportive of the work we do in Liberia and enjoys attending our dedication ceremonies when she has time.

John Moore(site supervisor) is putting together an impromptu children's choir to sing at a well dedication.  John is a master at conducting well dedications.  He learns the names of the adults and introduces them, always showing the proper amount of respect to the community leaders.  He leads the children in songs and loosens up the crowd with jokes and anecdotes.  He does all this with an air of spiritualty that the people love.


These young people are wondering where in the world the funny looking white people came from.  A lot of the children have seen Chinese men who are building roads, so they will call us "Chiny white man".  
  Before we ever start digging, Morris goes to the community and meets with the people of the area.  He explains to them what they must do to qualify for a well and when they accept the conditions, he teaches them about good hygiene practices.  Good hygiene is pretty basic to most of us, but if a person doesn't have running water or refrigeration or garbage pickup, good hygiene becomes more difficult. 

One of Morris's teaching aids.  We have experienced running stomach a few times.

At one of the dedications, Mike is telling the villagers where the money came from that was used for their well.  He explains that people from all around the world have donated money to the humanitarian fund of the LDS church and the church has sent some of that money to West Africa so we could dig a well for their village.  He tells them that 100% of the money donated to the church's humanitarian fund is used to relieve the suffering of people who are struggling to meet daily needs and people who need emergency help because of natural disasters.  The man standing next to him is a reporter that was traveling with Senator Freeman that day.  He recorded all three dedications and later in the week aired parts of them on the government radio station.

After the speeches are made, the first cup of water is drawn from the well and it is tested by the honored guest, Senator Freeman.  She declared it was good and then several others tasted it. (from the same cup)
After it is determined that the water is clean and tastes good, the contractor turns over the keys to Mike as the representative of LDS Charities.  He in turn, gives the keys to Senator Freeman as the representative of the government.

Senator Freeman then hands the keys of the hand pump to the village elder.  Later he will give the keys to the committee chairman and the caretaker.  Ceremony is very important to the people here, so we let them decide what the program should be.  As many as 8 or 10 people will take part in the average well dedication.  Most of those will speak briefly.
After the turning over of the keys, Senator Freeman takes the opportunity to urge the people to take good care of the new well.  She reminds them that clean water is not free and that everyone in the village needs to do their part to ensure that the well will continue to provide them with safe drinking water for many years.  She reiterates the message about sanitation and also has a timely message about the Ebola virus.  She emphatically states that "Ebola is real".  This is a message that the Liberian government has been trying to get the people to believe for quite some time.  Hopefully, they will start believing it soon.
Drummers at a dedication.  They were very good.


  1. LOVE April's dress & head wrap! I can't wait to see her wear it to church when she gets back. :)

  2. It was so interesting to hear about the process of building the wells and the ceremonies that accompany them. April, you looked terrific "gowned"! So glad to hear that all is "well"!!!!

  3. "Well", so good to have a detailed explanation of all you are doing. What an important basic need you are providing. Not sure if drinking out of the same cup was safe hygiene but it did look like it was a great ceremony.

    Love and miss you Chiny white folks.