WHOLives brings water to villages and safety to young girlsMar 09, 2023 10:24AM ● By Peri Kinder
When communities invest in the Village Drill, it brings clean water to the area along with opportunities for education and economic growth. The South Jordan nonprofit WHOLives provides equipment, training and support to help foster a sustainable future for generations of families. (Photo courtesy of WHOLives)
Even now, more than 2 billion people around the world do not have access to clean water for drinking, cooking or bathing. But since 2011, a nonprofit in South Jordan has provided nearly 140 water drills to 37 countries, drilling 12,000 wells and bringing clean water to 12 million people.
WHOLives has a business model that is effective and sustainable. Although many donated drills end up broken and unusable, the WHOLives Village Drill concept finds viable drilling sites and families who commit to raising a portion of the cost to purchase the drill.
“We are against the idea of just giving things to people to get them out of poverty,” John Renouard said, WHOLives founder and executive director. “It just builds pride in what they have. It builds responsibility and self-reliance that we know are important when we’re trying to lift people up.”
Teams are trained in the operations, upkeep, repair and maintenance of the drills so the wells can provide clean water for generations. Before having access to water, women and girls spent hours each day walking to water holes where the water is contaminated and unsafe to drink.
Now, with easy access to clean water, girls have the opportunity to pursue education with improved health and families can hold down jobs or create their own business to further economic growth.
“We wanted to do more than just give them water. We want them to try to solve the problem,” Renouard said. “I have immense appreciation for what we’ve done, but I also know it’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
In November 2022, Renouard and his team were installing a well at a rescue center in Kenya when they stumbled upon a terrible situation. He learned December was “cutting season” in the area, when young girls are taken from their homes to undergo female genital mutilation.
Although the practice is illegal, the mutilation happens outside the control of local authorities. Renouard was heartsick and knew he had to do something to help these young girls and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“A few areas in Kenya still practice this horrible tradition of FGM, female genital mutilation,” he said. “They literally sell these children to older men as a fifth wife or 10th wife or 15th wife, although they’re certainly not wives, they’re indentured servants.
“We did something that no one’s ever done before. We went to the police, we went to what we would call child protective services, we went to the magistrates and had conversations with them all. We asked them what they need to fight this. The answers were mind boggling. The number one thing they needed was funds for fuel for their cars so they could go out and investigate and arrest.”
As government officials, they were only allotted a small amount of fuel, not nearly enough to travel to the remote places these mutilations were taking place. WHOLives made a deal to provide money for fuel as long as the police shared their reports with local officials to make sure they were doing the job.
Since the practice was made illegal 10 years ago, only a handful of people have been arrested for FGM. Over the last few months, officials have made more than 40 arrests with 10 people already convicted and sentenced to time in prison.
“This becomes a big deterrent for following through with this awful tradition when there’s a high chance of getting arrested,” he said. “We anticipated we’d rescue about 400 girls. At last count, it was just over 1,700 girls we were able to rescue through our state houses. So, the number of girls that got cut just plummeted.”
WHOLives coordinated safe houses for the girls at police stations and other locations and will be ready for the next cutting season in August. For more information about WHOLives, visit WHOLives.org.
“I’ve been told I should change the WHO from Water, Health and Opportunity to Women, Health and Opportunity.”