Richard and Terri Greenly have led PumpsOK, a water pump wholesaler, for 30 years, but 14 years ago this July, the couple realized their pumps could change the world. Their nonprofit Water4 now has built water wells for use by millions of people in rural areas around the globe.
Richard Greenly, PumpsOK owner, took a trip to China in 2005 that changed his life, his business and eventually millions of people in communities throughout Africa.
In a village in China, he and friends put in solar pumps and built a water tank on the hill, so the village had running water for the first time in 5,000 years. Women no longer had to carry water for great distances, and little girls had the sanitation they needed to go to school.
“My wife Terri and I decided that maybe this was the reason that we own a wholesale pump supply company; we could leverage this and help people around the world,” said Richard, standing near a pump they had crafted, in part, from one of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs.
“We went to a conference, Water in Emerging Nations, in San Antonio and presented what we had done in China, then heard a presentation on how to drill a well in the Amazon for $50 with very simplistic equipment,” he said. “We went to our fab shop at Pumps of Oklahoma, built the equipment, and the well that we dug still works to this day. We started thinking, if we could show people how to manually drill wells in Africa, maybe they could start their own businesses.
“We are always trying to come at this from a business, humanitarian and Christian angle.”
Water4 officially began as a nonprofit in July 2008.
“We researched,” he said. “The average cost to build a well was $10,000. We found ways to do it for $1,000. We also took that year to train people in those countries to drill their own water wells.”
The next few years were full of traveling to different countries installing water wells.
“After five years, we had been to 40 countries drilling wells,” he said. “When we went back, women were back to hauling water out of their creeks again because many of their wells had broken. We thought, if we have to maintain every well, what we’re doing will collapse on itself. There are thousands of wells – how can we maintain them?
“Charity works the same way every time – let me give you a well. Then it breaks and there is no revenue for fixing it. If there is no plan to maintain the wells, nothing changes or every well is a liability. We wanted to change how it worked.”
The next step was to make the wells they were drilling more sustainable.
“These are the poorest people on earth,” he said, pointing to maps and photos of people they have worked with. “They survive on subsistence farming, making about two dollars a day. But if we could loan a farmer enough money for a well and a solar irrigation pump, and then he could irrigate his crops, he could make more money and would possibly want to take care of his well. We helped a village – 50 farmers – in Zambia with starting a farming co-op. We provided a loan with enough money to maintain the well, fertilizers and information about crop rotation. There was 100 percent repayment on the loan within a year.”
Their second plan was a water utility. Could the poorest people on the planet pay for their own water?
“Would they want to pay three-to-five cents a day to pay for the upkeep of their own wells? With this money, we could pay 10 people to work full-time maintaining the wells,” he said. “The villagers were enthusiastic about it. Because of the wells and water utilities, two million people in rural areas have water for the first time ever.”
The work of the nonprofit is not only to provide water to those in need, but to provide jobs and sustainability to entire regions.
“We want them to have the dignity that comes with work,” Terri said. “Six or seven hundred people now have jobs. They are helping their region emerge. Now that there is water, there are more crops, jobs making food, bricks, soap and other small manufacturing jobs. This is creating generational change — there are three to five hours a day where women aren’t hauling water and they can now use those hours to create.”