Wells of Hope
NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA (Bullet News Niagara) - Jim Vaughan journeyed to Guatemala last February not really too sure what he would find. He was travelling with the Niagara-based Wells of Hope, the charity that traverses the Central American country providing water for its impoverished people.
Vaughan had become connected with some of the organizers through a local fundraising golf tournament three years ago. He was intrigued with the concept and figured the time had come for him to see first-hand what it was all about.
The trip changed his life.
“It’s a desperate society,” says Vaughan, whose family owns Ground Aerial Maintenance in Niagara Falls. “I don’t know how else to put it. Everywhere you look there is something you can be doing to help. There’s too much. It’s overwhelming. You come home and you are overloaded with thoughts and feelings.”
Overwhelming or not, Vaughan returned home a new man, and he was determined to not forget what he saw. In fact, he became resolved to somehow make a lasting difference, to do more than talk of his experiences. So he came up with a plan. He and brother Larry are about to embark on a campaign to raise $55,000 for a well to be dug in Sanyuyu, a village of some 5,000 people in the remote mountain region of Santa Maria Jalapa – part of that desperate Guatemalan society where the roads are pretty much non-existent housing is sparse and clean water, such as it is, exists for only six months of the year.
“I realized I can no longer sit at home watching my big-screen TV. I had to do something. This isn’t right what’s going on down there. You can’t go down there and not feel this need to find a way to make a difference. That’s how it was for me, anyway.”
Why Sanyuyu? Coincidence, really. Vaughan happened to be in Guatemala at the time when Wells of Hope founder Ted Vander Zalm was scheduled to visit the community. He asked Vaughan to come along for the ride.
“We’re driving along – you wouldn’t believe the roads, you just bounce and bounce and shake – and Ted tells me these people think we are going to start drilling the well the next week. He has to break the news to them that this is not happening. There is no money to do it and no equipment right now. He seemed a little apprehensive about it.”
But that’s how it is sometimes. Every individual story does not have a happy ending. Wells of Hope, for example, for all the tremendous work it does, is coming off a rough year. It hasn’t completed a single well in 2012 because of damage to its drilling rig – a relatively new unit which cost about $1.3 million. That’s an enormous amount of money for this kind of operation.
“These people are getting pretty aggressive with us,” Vaughan continues. “They are really disappointed. They figured the Big Kahuna was coming and would start drilling that day. They weren’t very happy.”
While Vander Zalm attempted to explain the situation, Vaughan looked around. He was touched by the destitution, the raw need of people who literally had nothing. He was also struck by what a mere $55,000 could do to assist so many.
“What happens is that they drink rain water for half the year. It rains so much for six months and it fills up these small reservoirs they have. But for the other six months they have nothing. Women walk four hours to ponds or lagoons and they bring back swamp water. Some are poisoned by it, and they get diarrhea and some die.
“That just can’t keep happening. We need to do something.”
The Vaughan brothers want to turn this drive into a region-wide project, appealing to local businesses or anyone who wants to get involved. If they can’t spark enough interest, they have committed to providing the money themselves. One way or another the people of Sanyuyu will get their well.
“When you are there, everywhere you look there is something you could do to help. You’re working on a project and someone is suddenly pulling on your pant leg, and he has nothing but underwear on. So you go over to the cornfield where they live and suddenly there are three more women begging you to help them find shelter. They are so poor that you can’t describe it.
“And it all stems from not having water. If they had water they could grow 16 corn plants and three pepper plants.; they could sustain a family. When you think about it, poverty all comes from not having water. That’s why we want to do something for Sanyuyu.”
Already they have help from Line 2 Revenue Systems, owners of Bullet News Niagara, IkfadTV and bulletnewsdeals.com. Company owner Dave Martineau has pledged a percentage of sales from bulletnewsdeals.com to assist with the Sanyuyu fundraising.
“It’s a great cause and we’re happy to help in any way we can,” he says. “Wells of Hope is one of those organizations that really does change the world right at the grass-roots level. When you support them, you know exactly where the money is going and you can see what it does to touch the lives of the people in Guatemala.”
Scott Maxwell, chairman of Wells of Hope, breaks down the efforts in Sanyuyu to $10 a person.
“With that we can provide water – the essence of life. How can we not find a way to do this? It’s a no-brainer of a project.”
Like many things, however, it can be easier said than done. No-brainer or not, while $55,000 may not be a ton of money by some North American standards, it is still a king’s ransom in a country like Guatemala – and even for some corporations and charitable funders. Money is tight everywhere. And that’s why Maxwell is so grateful to donors, big and small. But he vows repairs to the rig will be made and, with the support of the Vaughan brothers, this project will get done.
“We came close to trying to do this project this year,” Maxwell says. “We made a pitch to a U.S. donor and they thought it was too risky. We never know when we are going to hit water and it’s expensive. The average depth of our wells down there is 1,200 feet; in Niagara they are about 90 feet. That gives you an idea of the difference.
“But we will resolve our rig situation. Come next season we will be drilling and Sanyuyu is on the list.”
Wells of Hope started in 2001. Since then it has dug 13 wells, providing water for some 35,000 people. Vander Zalm and Maxwell are both Niagara teachers who take leaves of absence from their jobs to do the work in Guatemala. Maxwell runs the operation from this end in Niagara-on-the-Lake while Vander Zalm is the man on the ground, right where he has been since he started doing this kind of work in Africa.
Wells of Hope was initially an annual expedition to Guatemala by Vander Zalm and his wife, Miriam. They’d drive down, sometimes joined by friends or family, and dig wells by hand, with a pick. Today it’s a little more advanced. They’ve established a permanent camp in the country and the technology has advanced a great deal. But the technology only helps when it’s working.
“We have a truck and a rig and we drive from spot to spot drilling wells,” Maxwell says. “It usually takes a month from start to finish to drill a hole. The drilling season is November to the middle of May – then the rains come and they are so strong that you can’t get the truck into places. The roads are impassable.”
But each day delegations usually arrive at Camp Esperanza (Camp Hope) before dawn, hoping to make a presentation to Vander Zalm. They know if they show up after daybreak he’ll already be out on a job.
“People show up at our gates in the morning. They’ve been travelling all night, walking. They will be at the gates and we bring them in and we give them coffee and it’s like we are giving them a million dollars. We listen to them. Some are detailed with their plans and some are rough. Some say they need a home because they are living in a house built from cornstalks. Some are organized and they have a village behind the plan.
Water is the main mission, but, as Vaughan says, it’s easy to get pulled away from that. Wells of Hope as a growing concern is no different. It has over the years branched off and built homes and schools.
“A well application is six pages,” Maxwell says. “A school application is eight pages. We are not running schools. We need to know if there is funding for a teacher and books, we ask about the population and the growth rate. We need to know these things. We can’t spend resources unless the school is going to be used.”
Vander Zalm and Maxwell bring prescription drugs into the region. Wells of Hope also started Packs of Hope, a program supported by schools all over Niagara, and from as far away as Alberta. Backpacks jammed with books and pens and pencils and sanitary supplies for thousands of children.
Vander Zalm and Maxwell have also recruited a fairly regular collection of experts who travel to Guatemala to be part-time assistants with the team – everything from doctors and dentists to photographers or manual labourers, all donating their time and whatever expertise they possess. All are welcome. But it’s not a vacation, Maxwell stresses. People are there to work. And it’s hard work. And it’s not just physical work.
“The hardest thing for most is the mental component,” Maxwell says. “It’s the anguish – the disconnect between what you see and where most of us are in our lives here. People need time to chew on that. Some can’t cope with it. Even for those who do cope, it still takes a toll. But it’s very satisfying, very rewarding. In the end you are literally helping give these people life. That’s what it is. It’s life.”
For more information on Wells of Hope visit www.wellsofhope.com.
Copyright 2013 Bullet News Niagara
Updated 320 days ago Article ID# 1705304
Wells of Hope