Every 21 seconds, a child in East Africa dies from the effects of contaminated water.
Even though clean, life-saving water is just a few dozen yards below the surface, about one child in five in the region will die before reaching his fifth birthday because of causes directly attributable to ingesting dirty water.
But thanks to the efforts of members of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter, thousands of children — as well as men and women in hundreds of villages in Uganda — are enjoying the benefits of having clean water wells in their small, rural communities.
“It’s amazing, because these wells are changing lives,” said Ralph Linzmeier, membership chair of the Orange Coast Chapter and a recent member of Legatus’ board of governors.
Linzmeier had the opportunity to see firsthand how clean water is impacting lives in Uganda during a 10-day trip last August to the East African nation with his son, David Linzmeier, and others who are involved with Wells of Life, a nonprofit committed to bringing clean, safe water to Uganda.
For a week and a half, Linzmeier and his companions drove across the country, visiting remote villages and speaking with villagers — many of whom had relatives and children die from drinking and bathing in stagnant pools of contaminated water.
The trip impacted the lives of all who went, including David Linzmeier, a Wells of Life board member.
“It’s remarkable to see it firsthand — how thankful these incredible communities are and how much they appreciate the work that’s being done,” David said. “They are just the happiest people you can ever meet. Providing water is something that will really change their lives forever.”
“We can all learn so much from our children,” Ralph added. “I’ve now witnessed my son David teaching in Haiti immediately following the devastating earthquake and now working to help meet the need for clean drinking water in Uganda.”
Peter Callahan, president of Wells of Life, retired from his law practice years ago to devote his energies full time to the ministry. He also traveled to Uganda last August with the group and described the villagers’ elaborate welcoming ceremonies for the Americans.
“In the places they were expecting us, they would gather the entire village and put on a two-, three-, four-hour show, with kids reciting poetry, the men and women dancing,” said Callahan, who was just as moved by conversations he had with villagers who didn’t know the group of Westerners.
4+“I asked one lady, ‘Do you know who donated this well?’ She said, ‘His name is on the [dedication plaque]. I don’t know anything about the man, but I know he’s a great man with a large heart.’”
Saving the Girls
Several members of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter have sponsored a well, which costs about $6,000. The Wells of Life team has set a goal to drill 1,000 wells, which will serve an estimated one million people in Uganda.
To date, Wells of Life has helped drill almost 200 wells. Other partner organizations in Uganda have drilled several hundred more, bringing relief to thousands of villagers who until recently had been forced to send their women and young girls to fetch water dozens of miles away.
Legate Patrick “Paddy” McCullagh, a member of Wells of Life’s board, has been a driving force for the nonprofit organization. McCullagh said his involvement began about 12 years ago when he partnered with Wells of Life founder Nick Jordan to build elementary schools in Uganda.
Through that effort, McCullagh and Jordan learned that many Ugandan girls were unable to attend school because they were out getting water for their families. Those girls were making two- to three-hour trips — sometimes more than twice a day — to get water, and they were vulnerable to attacks from wild animals and would-be rapists if they traveled alone.
By drilling wells in their local villages, Wells of Life not only spared those girls long, dangerous treks for water, but it also enabled them to attend school.
“It really provides them with a normal life, and it changes their lives forever,” said David Linzmeier, who recalled being on the road nonstop while in Uganda.
“We were going to places that nobody ever visits,” he said. “You would start off on a dirt road that would get narrower and then suddenly you’re barely able to get your vehicle through. There were times when we couldn’t actually get the drilling rig through, and we had to find another way around.”
The trip had also had its share of grace-filled moments. One day, the group drove 40 miles south through difficult terrain to visit St. John the Baptist Parish, which was in dire need of clean drinking water. At that moment, the group committed to drilling a well there and in 11 surrounding parishes. The group’s generosity literally answered the prayers of the pastor, who at that same time was visiting California and had been praying with Nick Jordan, Wells of Life’s founder.
“There were so many miracles that happened on this trip, just astounding things,” said Ralph Linzmeier, who recalled attending a beautiful Mass in downtown Kampala that was made possible only because a member of the group had missed his flight to Ireland.
The group also visited the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine, which Pope Francis visited last November. The Americans helped the shrine’s pastor purchase the chair that Holy Father used. The shrine’s pastor later emailed the pictures of the chair, which has their names on the back.
“This is a communal effort of people coming together to change the world around clean water in Uganda,” said Ralph Linzmeier, who added that many in the United States and the developed world don’t realize how privileged they are to have something as simple as clean water.
“We went from place to place, and we actually witnessed some of the water holes that were stagnant, covered in algae,” he said. “There was one place where cattle were standing in the water, drinking, and that’s where the people were drinking from.”
The new wells aid villagers’ health and quality of life immensely. They learn how to maintain their wells and keep the water source clean from contaminants. Developers also ask villagers to share their water with anyone who needs it.
“It’s been a tremendous experience that has really changed my life,” Callahan explained. “You realize that you really do have brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, and they are counting on you.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.
Learn more: wellsoflife.org