An idea that began nine years ago with a group of Washington D.C. churchgoers and their pastor, Todd Phillips, is now changing the global conversation of humanitarian efforts on historical levels.
Phillips, founder and president of The Last Well in Rockwall, Texas, is part of the team that is bringing safe, clean water to the entire country of Liberia by 2020. The Last Well is a nonprofit outside Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas, with one primary purpose: Eliminate water scarcity in Liberia. When the mission is complete in two years, Liberia will be the first developing country with clean water from one border to another.
“When we’ve completed our goal, it will be the largest effort of its kind – going in the rural areas of a developing country from border to border and providing every single human a clean, permanent water source within a 15-minute walking distance of their home,” Phillips said of the nearly $32 million project. “This will be the first time ever where thousands of people have pulled together in one unified attempt to bring clean water to any developing country from border to border. It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”
To achieve their goal, The Last Well has partnered with Tampa, Florida-based Sawyer Products, to distribute nearly 120,000 donated Sawyer PointONE water filter systems in communities and rural areas in Liberia, teach them how to use and clean the filters and track results through a GIS system.
“Partnering with The Last Well has been key in providing clean water to millions of Liberians who otherwise might suffer gravely from contamination,” said Darrel Larson, international director of Sawyer Products. “Seeing the excitement of those who’ve already received water filters in Liberia gives us much needed hope in solving a global issue that has lasted for far too long.
To date, Calvin College in Michigan has analyzed data from over 22,000 Liberian households that received Sawyer water filter systems from The Last Well. Before receiving their water filter systems, 36 percent of those households reported cases of diarrhea during the previous two-week period. A follow-up survey two weeks after receiving the filter installations revealed a drastic decline of symptoms with only 2.9 percent of the households experiencing diarrhea. The percentage of households reporting diarrhea was reduced even further — to 1.5 percent — eight weeks after the filter installations.
“It’s quite remarkable to see the positive shifts in health in these rural villages,” Phillips said. “We’ve seen a massive improvement on overall health conditions – not just for a few hundred people – but hundreds of thousands of people are being affected and now have better health because they have a clean water source.
“We would not be able to come close to accomplishing this enormous effort without Sawyer,” Phillips added. “They are a huge piece of this endeavor in order to serve water to a vast majority of people who otherwise would not be reachable.”
Since the effort began in 2009, there have been over 45,000 filters funded and placed in Liberia households within five of the country’s 15 counties. Another33,000 filters have been funded and ready to be placed in homes this year. The Last Well still has about $5 million left to raise within the next 6-12 months for the placement of the remaining 40,000 or more filters in 2019 and 2020.
“At the beginning, it was a hard road. It was challenging and looked impossible,” Phillips said, explaining he was told over and over again the idea of bringing clean water to millions of people in Liberia was a fool’s errand and couldn’t be done. “But it was an act of faith to believe that God would push the barriers aside to help us find a solution. People started to believe that we can really do this, and now, this is changing the conversation of humanitarian efforts all over the world.”
Phillips has seen the hundreds of smiling Liberian faces as they see and taste clean water for the first time. Each time, he is overwhelmed with joy.
“There is a common phrase among everyone in Liberia: ‘Water is life.’ They know clean water is essential to giving their children a hope and a future. Many children die each day because of completely preventable illnesses that come from drinking dirty water,” Phillips said. He has often heard mothers say they bore several children, but only half are still living. The ones who died most often died from water-borne disease in their first few years of life. “We’re in Liberia to make sure stories like that never happen again.”