Experts Exchange Builds Two Wells in Ethiopia, Raises Money for Third

Posted by · November 1, 2011 7:32 am

Many of us grow up wanting to change the world, but few of us actually attempt to do so.  For Experts Exchange Product Manager Megan Farrell, the dream of being a hero became a reality last week when she traveled to Ethiopia to meet the men, women and children whose lives she and a group of Experts Exchange community and staff members vastly improved (and potentially saved) as a result of the two water wells they raised money to build at the Hidale School and Gerebmukrats Village.

Currently, over 1 billion people around the world lack access to clean drinking water and nearly 6,000 people (5,000 of which are children), die every day as a result of diseases from contaminated water.

“One man from the Gerebmukrats Village was telling us that before the water well was built in the village, the people had to share their water source with the livestock.  There were also a lot of leeches in the water, and when the people would drink the water, the leaches would stick inside their mouth and throats and suck their blood,” Farrell said on the Experts Exchange Tech News Podcast last week.  “A lot of people were getting very sick (or even dying), missing a lot of work and needing to travel to the nearest health post, which was often a number of miles away.”

For the children at the Hidale School, the water well not only means clean drinking water and better health but also that they miss less school.

“Prior to the well being built many children had to carry water from their village into the school, or walk an extra distance to fetch water on their walk to school. If children did not bring water to school with them they would have to leave on their breaks and go fetch water. This meant many children were missing time in class in order to retrieve drinking water,” Farrell said.

Experts Exchange Charity Challenge

Farrell first became passionate about bringing clean drinking water to people in developing countries when she attended a fundraiser for WaterRun, a non-profit that donates 100% of its proceeds to build sustainable water wells in Ethiopia.

A few months after the fundraiser, a group of Experts Exchange’s top experts approached Farrell (who spearheads the charity efforts at the Experts Exchange corporate office) about donating the t-shirts they earned from answering questions and achieving new ranks on Experts Exchange to a charitable cause.  Farrell immediately thought of partnering with WaterRun to build wells. Experts Exchange’s owner Randy Redberg jumped on board with the idea and the Experts Exchange Charity Challenge was born.

The challenge to the Experts Exchange experts was simple: Donate 300 t-shirts and WaterRun will build a well for a small village.  Donate 500 t-shirts and a well will be built for a school.   The experts exceeded the challenge, donating over 750 shirts.

Inspired by the community members’ generosity, the folks at the Experts Exchange corporate office put together a BBQ fundraiser to raise money for a second well. Redberg matched the money raised at the BBQ and as a result of both the Experts Exchange community and staffers efforts, WaterRun was able to build a shallow borehole well at the Hidale School and a small hand dug well in Gerembukrats.

No words

Farrell and Broersma visit the children at the Hidale School

Earlier this month, Farrell and WaterRun founder Ryan Broersma travelled with folks from A Glimmer of Hope (one of WaterRun’s partner organizations) to Ethiopia for the inauguration of both wells.

Farrell recalls the day she and her fellow travelers visited the Hidale School:

“We were late getting to the school, and the school day had already ended. We didn’t know if anyone would be there, but when we arrived, we saw over 300 kids lined up, chanting welcome and holding signs that said ‘Water is Life’ and ‘Thank You Experts Exchange.’ The kids had stayed to welcome us and they were really excited and full of smiles and joy. The experience brought tears to my eyes. It is amazing to see how grateful everyone was to have access to clean drinking water, something I take for granted every day.”

This month marked Broersma’s third trip to Ethiopia. Despite the fact that his organization has now built 14 wells in the country (and one in Kenya), he says that the emotions he feels when he sees people using the wells and hears the stories of how the wells changed their lives is still difficult to put into words.

“The wells have usually been built for six months to a year before I’m able to make a return visit, so the community has had plenty of time to use the well by the time I get there,” Broersma says. “Hearing from the people about how the well has impacted them is very emotional for me. Children are able to go to school more. Woman have time to do other income generating things like have a garden or sell eggs in market; but the number one thing I hear is that ‘We’re just not sick anymore. We used to always be sick and now we’re not sick.’”

Two young girls use the new water well at the Hidale School

It takes a village

To do the actual work of building the wells in Ethiopia, WaterRun partners with A Glimmer of Hope (an organization that works with women and children in Ethiopia to provide them with clean water, schools, health clinics and mico-finance loans) and Relief Society Tigray (REST). REST visits each village and performs a feasibility study to assess the best way to bring water to that village. The feasibility study includes talking with the elders of the community to understand the challenges and resources of the village, looking at the community size, the outline of the land and the areas where water currently collects to determine the best location for a well.

Depending on the results of REST’s feasibility study, Water Run will raise money to build a small, hand dug well (which provides water for up to 250 people), a shallow borehole well (water for up to 500 people) or a deep borehole well (which serves large communities). After the well is installed, they develop a water committee consisting of three men and three women who are in charge of overseeing the well and making sure it lasts. The committee gets trained on sanitation and hygiene and they must bring those lessons back to their community. Every community member is responsible for contributing 10 cents per month so they are able to maintain their well and fix anything that breaks.

In addition, representatives from A Glimmer of Hope do follow-up on each project and submit reporting to their partners and donors to ensure proper implementation. This guarantees that donation money is being spent well and not wasted.  As previously mentioned, WaterRun operates on the 100% model, meaning all of their operating expenses (travel, bank fees, paper clips, etc)  are paid for by board members and private donors and 100% of the money donated by others goes directly to water projects.

“One of the reasons I wanted to partner with Water Run is because of the 100% model,” says Experts Exchange owner Randy Redberg.  “It’s hard to find organizations that give 100% of the money you donate back to the actual thing you’re donating to.  Ryan (Water Run’s founder) owns his own businesses and I know he understands how to run a company. He appreciates that when you take someone’s money, it should go to where you told them it is going to.”

How you can help

On the last two days of their trip, Farrell and Broersma visited two villages still in need of clean drinking water.  In the Ayder Village (pictured at right), the people get their water from a hole that fills up during the rainy season for six months of the year. After the hole dries up, the people of the Ayder Village walk to a dam about 20 minutes away.  Both the water from the water hole and the dam are shared with livestock, and according to the elders of the village, every member has gotten a parasite or some sickness from the water.

The BorBoro Village is located above a canyon and the water source (which contains a large number of leeches) is located 400 feet down the canyon.  The trail to the water is steep, requiring a walk from 6,800 hundred feet up to 7,200 feet in elevation—a  walk that the women of the village often make while carrying a water jug on their back and a baby in their arms.  The water source fills during the rainy season but when the dry season comes, the villagers must dig down in the dirt to access more water.

“While visiting BorBoro, I did a water walk and tied a Jerry Can to my back and carried it up the trail,” Farrell says. “I figured it would be a breeze considering I just did a triathlon last month, but it was far from it. Being at high elevation and carry 45 pounds of water straight up was not easy. I was breathing very hard and sweating like crazy when I got to the top. I could not imagine doing that 3-4 times per day just to fetch water.”

Currently, WaterRun is trying to raise money to build wells in both the Ayder and BorBoro Villages.  Farrell is organizing a private fundraiser to benefit the BorBoro village. The Experts Exchange corporate office is raising money to build a well in the Ayder village—and you can help!

Simply visit the WaterRun website and make a donation, and Experts Exchange will match every dollar you give up to the cost of building a water well in the Ayder village. 

Even if you are only able to make a small donation, every little bit helps.  Just $20 dollars is enough to bring one individual clean drinking water.  If you don’t have $20 yourself, perhaps the people you work with would be willing to pull their resources to donate; and thanks to Experts Exchange owner Randy Redberg’s generosity, whatever amount you can give will be instantly doubled by the Experts Exchange corporate office.

Of the donations, Broersma says this:

“When it comes to charity, a lot of people think it’s a black hole of money that you just pour into and it makes no difference.  Both Megan and I can truly say that we know the immediate change and impact it’s making in people’s lives. We all have to drink water and if the water you drink is making you sick all the time, that’s not good. Yes, it’s something as simple as clean water, but it will change lives.”

If that’s not reason enough to give, perhaps this video, created by Farrell to document her trip will be: