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A life-changing WellBoring tale

Nigel Linacre is an old friend of mine and a UK-based Brit who has done valuable charity work in East Africa. I think his micro development model can be copied in Nigeria and hope Vanguard readers find his story as inspiring as I do.

WHAT if there was a low- cost practical way to make a difference to a million Nigerians?

WellBoring is an NGO bringing clean water to 100 schools in Africa, with an average school and community population of 1,000, transforming the lives of some 100,000 people, as a first step to getting clean water to a million people. If it can be done in Kenya where most of the work has been done, it can be done in Nigeria.

How did it begin? I got the idea of taking British-based executives to work in resource-poor Kenyan schools where we challenged the executives to use their skills to make a difference.

Water problem

Two senior engineers came on the Leadership Journey and said they could sort the water problem at a school. The head of the school said a borehole would provide the solution.

How would that work, I asked? With enough rain falling from the sky, much of it seeping into the ground, there would likely be plenty of water underground in aquifers, layers of permeable rock which contain groundwater. We could get a small hole drilled deep into the ground, fit a tube and a pump, and the school would have water.

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We went back to the UK and decided to form a charity, a kind of NGO. I asked my son what we should call it and he said “WellBoring Dad”. Well, we called it WellBoring, which is slang for very dull! We gave our time to charity and asked our friends to contribute cash. Working with a local driller, the first project was ready. After surveying the ground and drilling for a few days, several hundred children had clean water.

That felt great but could we repeat it? We decided to keep a focus on rural primary schools since children suffer most from water-borne diseases, and we felt an institution had to be responsible for each well. There are thousands of such schools where schoolchildren are currently walking to rivers to get polluted river water.

We went slowly, taking months to complete early projects, as we figured how to do this well. We wanted school communities to contribute what they could, providing basic materials to support the drilling process, so that they would feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. With half a dozen projects completed, we were going well, and we surveyed the scale of the challenge. Millions of Kenyans lack access to clean water. How would we get scale?

In my profession, I coach senior executives and run leadership courses. I know you have to have a clear goal before you know how you will get there. The what comes before the show! Getting water to 100 schools felt like a great goal, and we are now most of the way there. Next, we had to make the technology simple, with virtually no running costs. Handpumps could provide a solution. We raised funds and rolled out.

Within the schools, water is used to drink, for handwashing, and for cleaning classroom floors, reducing sickness and disease. In some schools, it’s used to cook. Water is variously shared with the community for drinking purposes and even for washing clothes, multiplying the impact. We work with the school’s health teachers via workshops. We monitor the use of water and the running of the pump. We revisit for simple maintenance purposes.

What’s the impact? Non-attendance at schools falls dramatically. From over 20 per cent to a few per cent. That means an extra 100 children at a typical school. Across 100 schools that’s 10,000 more children at school today and every school day. And when they do go to school, they don’t have to leave to fetch water. Academic results improve. Schools start to develop a kitchen garden for school lunches. The benefits are immense and measurable.

Rainwater harvesting

WellBoring works mostly in areas where plenty of water can be found somewhere between 100 and 250 feet (30 and 80 metres). Less than that and there’s a risk of surface contamination. Deeper than that, and the free-to-run handpumps we usually fit won’t work. Occasionally, where it is hard to drill, we fit rainwater harvesting solutions, but they need huge capacities to provide constant availability.

Do WellBoring’s wells keep working? We encourage school leaders to get in touch whenever there is any problem. We revisit the schools. On our most recent survey, 100 per cent of all the wells is working. There will be occasional downtime but we are staying in the picture to deliver a low-cost durable solution.

Most of these wells cost around $6,000 and transform over 600 lives at less than $10 a life, including training and maintenance. The individual cost will vary depending on the depth at which water is found.

We’ve found that people are willing to give to WellBoring, because we are delivering results, and because the UK-Europe team give our time, so we don’t have overheads, and almost every pound given is spent in-country where it makes the biggest difference.

While most of WellBoring’s first 100 schools are in Kenya we have started into Uganda, where similar problems persist, and intend to make a bigger difference in more countries. We want to work with governments, institutions and communities. We’re also happy to coach people who want to do what we have done in a country like Nigeria.

Together we can change the world.

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