A Lifeline for African Villagers

Dave Powell, co-founder and president of Aston, Pa.-based Lifetime Wells International, has drilled thousands of wells in Ghana and Tanzania since launching the nonprofit in 2004. Fitted with hand pumps, the wells provide up to two gallons of water per minute in impoverished, rural communities where rain is not a given and where residents often rely on mud holes and dammed swamps for drinking water.

Powell ’82 Bus, who runs a water well contracting business, typically installs one well for every 300-to-500 villagers, and sometimes as many as four wells in a community. Their presence is transformative—particularly during dry seasons, when villagers often must walk long distances in search of potable water, and then need to transport it home. His wells can tap groundwater that in some cases is 200 feet below ground. He also trains locals to provide well maintenance.

“We’re really just trying to get these people to have a clean glass of water and not worry about if they drink it, they’re going to have to go to the hospital or the grave,” Powell says.

He estimates that he’s provided drinking water to 2 million people over the years. Each of his wells costs $3,500 to build—but each will provide decades of use. “The kids are now able to go to school,” says Powell. “A lot of times they can’t because the family needs water, and they have to walk a mile to get five gallons at a time. They may need to do that two or three times a day. The women can’t be working in the fields or taking care of their kids if they’ve got to fetch water.”

Powell partners with Villanova University’s Engineering Service Learning program to help with the sustainability of the wells. He launched the organization in Morocco as Wells For Life, then shifted operations to Ghana in 2009. Wells for Life later merged with Lifetime Wells for Ghana to form Lifetime Wells International. —Andy Faught