Volunteers improve lives in Central America by drilling water wells.



Millions of times a day across America, people fill a glass with tap water, flush a toilet and twist on the hot streams from a showerhead with little thought. Fresh, clean water immediately pours out when wanted. It can be easy to take for granted, even when just a couple of thousand miles south, such things are a mere dream. While many realize some countries don’t have access to clean water, the actual numbers may come as a

shock.

“Of the world’s population, just one in five people have access to clean water,” says Mike Douglas, a philanthropic man of faith and action from Colorado. “We are a very rich country.”

He and his brother, Kirk, want to share some of those riches and, in conjunction with their church groups, have dedicated much of their lives to bringing clean water to villages throughout Central America. They have worked in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama, but recently their work has focused on Honduras and Guatemala. Both countries’ indigenous people struggle with severe poverty. Honduras was decimated by Hurricane Mitch more than a decade ago, and Guatemala still is recovering from a civil war that destroyed much of the land.

“They’re just astonishingly poor people, and, to some degree, have been forgotten by their own government,” Mike says of the Guatemalan tribes. “A major factor of their poverty is that they simply don’t have clean water. Because of this, they suffer from all forms of maladies.”

The lack of clean water affects every aspect of their lives, from birth rates to general health and well-being. Referencing his first visit to the country, Mike recalled how the children’s poor health became obvious as he walked through the villages. Elderly people virtually were nonexistent; nobody lives long enough to reach old age – they’re plagued by water-borne diseases that claim their health and then their lives.

Evolving Efficiencies

But, Mike and Kirk, along with Colorado’s Littleton Bible Chapel, Deer Creek Church and a slew of caring volunteers, have been working to change all of that. About 15 years ago, they started drilling wells in villages across Central America. Up until six years ago, most were built by hand. Occasionally, they would be able to create a diversion project instead, drawing water from a nearby spring.

In the meantime, a group called Living Water International was working to implement participatory, community-based water solutions in developing countries. The nonprofit organization provides training programs to help grow the much-needed effort across the globe.

Training with Living Water Inter-national increased the brothers’ knowledge of shallow well drilling, pump repair and hygiene education. It also introduced them to Little Beaver’s Lone Star Drills, a line of portable water well drills designed to tap into the physical, emotional and economic benefits that pure, clean water provides.

“When we saw the rig, we were very impressed with it, so we started taking steps toward obtaining one,” Mike says of their efforts following the training. “Fortunately, we were blessed with a donor who gave us a gift that allowed us to buy one.” Further aiding the process was a discount offered by Little Beaver on Lone Star Drills used for mission work. The combination allowed them to purchase a drill and immediately put it to work.

The brothers took the LS300T+ into some of the toughest terrain they had encountered, and were instantly impressed by how it performed. Their teams were drilling better wells faster, bringing much-needed clean water to the Central American villages. Before long, they obtained a second rig. In the past five years, the volunteer efforts with the new drill rigs have brought fresh water wells to more than 30 villages in Honduras and Guatemala. Each village is home to anywhere from 50 families to 400 families, Mike estimates. That equates to thousands of poverty-stricken people now having access to clean water – and better health – as a result of their efforts.

Changing Challenges

Though incredibly rewarding, the Douglas brothers say it’s not easy work, bringing fresh water to the areas they do. Beyond the risk from drug cartels, which even detained the brothers once, other challenges exist. “Because the countries are very diverse, we work everywhere from the ocean plains to the mountains,” Mike says. “We drill in all kinds of conditions, from sand and clay to some of the hardest volcanic rock formations that you’ll ever find, particularly in Guatemala.” Mike admits the Lone Star portable water well drills weren’t designed to drill through volcanic rock. But he has been impressed with how the drills have managed anyway. “Our success rate is really pretty remarkable, given the circumstances,” he says.

About five times each year, the brothers bring a team of eight to 12 volunteers who pay their own way to help drill the wells. Using the Lone Star LS300T+, the brothers and volunteers drill wells ranging from 90 feet to 300 feet deep. The fully hydraulic rigs feature an anchor kit that helps them push beyond the weight of the trailer the drill is mounted on, more effectively using the roller cone bits to get through the rock they often encounter in Guatemala. The team members will case the well to the point that they can install a six-inch casing and a pump that’s either solar powered or electric, depending on the village’s needs and economic abilities. They offer this option because, according to Mike, some are too poor to afford a monthly electrical bill for the pump.

Working in such extreme conditions means constant awareness of not only the surroundings, but of the machine’s performance to ensure the job is completed for those who desperately need it. “We just have to keep it well-oiled and well-greased during day-to-day maintenance because it’s very grueling on the machines when we’re trying to go through rock or even just cobblestone,” Mike says of the drill’s maintenance.

Nevertheless, pushing any piece of equipment beyond the parameters for which it’s constructed is bound to cause an occasional problem. When that happens, Kirk calls Little Beaver, and explains the situation.

The brothers say the Little Beaver representatives are “very responsive,” a claim Mike backs with several examples. For instance, the drill bits were held in place with sheer pins, but the brothers broke some pins operating in the rough terrain in some of the villages. In response, Mike says, Little Beaver changed the way that the swivel-head attached to the hydraulic motor. Beyond that, Mike says, they’ve found immeasurable support from the company to ensure the church groups’ humanitarian missions are fulfilled.

“The thing that is unsaid about Little Beaver is the entire staff’s commitment to service,” Mike says. “We had a rig break down on us, and my brother was already in Central America. It was a part that we could not get down there, and so we contacted Little Beaver. They went so far as driving the part all of the way to the Houston Airport and meeting me in the concourse with two packages that allowed me to carry this part onto the plane and get it back down there so we could get up and running again.” Mike called the two-hour, one-way trek to help them out “an amazing thing.” He also credits the company’s ingenuity and intimate knowledge of the products they produce. “They’re very ingenious in how they built this machine, and they can solve problems around it,” he notes.

Digging Development

In addition to bringing fresh water to villages in need, the Douglas brothers work closely with Dr. Hugo Gomez of Global CHE, which stands for Community Health Evangelism. Together, they bring evangelists to establish medical clinics and provide training, and they help with general sanitation education.

The rigs and wells also are used to help provide a source of income to the local people who are so seriously stricken with poverty. “We allow them to drill wells for commerce,” Mike says. “They’ve got a small business then, and are able to drill wells for profit. Providing jobs for them is just another form of
ministry.”

It’s a gratifying mission, but one that’s wrought with continually changing challenges. “It can be frustrating, because we come from a country where we drive down the street and buy almost anything we want,” Mike explains. “We flush more water down the toilets than they have to live on. Doing these missions for these people is just a very humbling thing, and it spurs you to use what you’ve been blessed with more responsibly.”

He and Kirk encourage their volunteers to move past the guilt they may feel when they return home. Instead, they tell them to be thankful for what they have and that they’re able to help those less fortunate. “That’s the main thing: We’re thankful that we’ve been given enough that we can give back,” Mike says.

For more information about Global CHE, go to www.globalche.org. For more on Lone Star Drills, visit www.lonestardrills.com.
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