DRAPER, UT — Around the world, 2 billion people lack access to clean water and must travel long distances to collect water. The duty of collecting water rests on females in more than 80% of homes. The burden and journey of collecting water make females more susceptible to dropping out of school, experiencing sexual assault or injury while walking or falling pregnant at a young age. In addition, the time spent walking to attain water could be better spent on achieving an education or earning an income. Since 2010, WHOlives, a nonprofit organization based in South Jordan, Utah, has consistently endeavored to support communities in Africa and provide access to clean water.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Nicci Renouard, the director of public relations for WHOlives, said a visit to Kenya in 2009 inspired her and her husband, John Renouard, the founder of WHOlives, to assist Africans living in poverty. While visiting an orphanage in Kenya, John Renouard observed a group of children collectively drinking from a single glass of water and later discovered the orphanage could afford solely one pitcher of clean water each day.
According to Nicci Renouard, her husband had a dream of a unique, human-powered drill two months after their trip and decided to sketch it just as he had dreamed it. Brigham Young University called John Renouard the next day, asking if he had a project the students could employ for BYU’s Capstone Engineering program and despite not knowing how they would react, John Renouard described the drill to them. The students in the program worked an entire semester to produce a Computer Assisted Design (CAD) drawing and close to the due date, emailed it to John Renouard, who was deeply moved by the drawing. Despite how intimidating the project was to the team, the BYU team decided to build the drill.
To verify that the Village Drill worked, the BYU team traveled to Tanzania to test it. The team toiled for four days to get the drill to function, but once the water started rising from the ground, both the drilling team and the people observing their progress were happy. WHOlives began constructing and administering the Village Drill in 2011.
The Village Drill Basics
To confirm applicable drilling sites and local water requirements, trained teams work directly with the communities lacking clean water. Since the Village Drill is portable, it can reach remote communities that are inaccessible to other drilling rigs. The average depth of an aquifer is 42 meters and, when circumstances are optimal, the Village Drill can drill up to 90 meters. With the ability to produce six tons of force, the Village Drill can pass through most ground materials including hard clay and coral.
Overall, the Village Drill package costs $29,500 and includes the complete drill structure, 50 sections of drill string, four industrial drilling bits, an industrial mud mixer and multiple other tools and materials. To install a Village Drill, the hard costs typically amount to $2,800.
Nicci Renouard highlights that what makes WHOlives stand out is the fact that “[WHOlives] believe[s]in letting people elevate themselves from poverty through self-reliance.” As the primary step to owning a well, families engage in raising a consequential portion of the well’s entire expenses. Donors and other supporters of WHOlives may fund the additional costs, making it possible for the organization to set up more water sites each month.
Moreover, villagers receive training to understand how to utilize and maintain a well for future generations, giving them a long-lasting clean water source. WHOlives trains local entrepreneurs to join low-cost drilling teams, giving them paying jobs. Nicci Renouard stated that one well can provide clean water to 1,000 people. By educating individuals on how to run wells and supporting well ownership, WHOlives is not only handing them a clean water source but also promoting self-reliance and sustainability, giving those living in poverty resources to live healthier lives.
In regard to the new direction WHOlives is taking, Nicci Renouard informed The Borgen Project that in Kuria, Kenya, 85% of girls undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) and many of these girls are sold as child brides. She explained that since FGMs typically occur during August and December, when children do not go to school, in December 2022, the CEO of WHOlives resolved to complete an FGM rescue mission, which entailed the WHOlives team and their associates in Kenya establishing safe locations for girls to seek refuge during cutting seasons.
Nicci Renouard helped save more than 2,000 girls from FGM and other types of abuse and helped authorities make 40 arrests nearby, in WHOlives’ latest rescue mission. Aside from working with law enforcement, Nicci Renouard stated that WHOlives also communicated with schools and village elders and assembled activities for the girls remaining at the shelters, such as sewing, soap making and hair styling.
Along with this, Nicci Renouard revealed that to help survivors of FGM as well as individuals escaping child marriage and gender-based violence, WHOlives is developing a humanitarian fund. She explained that the fund aims to provide for the young women in four categories: housing, education, medical and legal. She stated that acquiring funds is essential for WHOlives to advance, estimating around $2,000 yearly to cover expenses that will assist these girls.
As of 2023, WHOlives has facilitated more immediate routes to clean water to 12 million people and has drilled more than 12,000 wells. Additionally, across 40 countries, the organization now has 127 Village Drill teams, according to Nicci Renouard. Persistently, WHOlives has strived to help communities attain clean water. Now, to safeguard the human rights of young women in Africa, WHOlives is expanding its mission. With additional funding, WHOlives will be able to assist even more people and continue to make crucial changes throughout Africa.
– Megan Roush