The gift of clean water

Couple gives back by drilling for water, installing pumps in rural African communities

When Stephanie Letchworth (’99) and her husband, Kevin, became owners of N.W. Poole Well & Pump Company in Wendell, North Carolina — an established company founded back in 1949 — the couple vowed that a big part of their business plan would be giving back.

And for a company with nearly 70 years experience in water well drilling, pump installation and water treatment; there was truly only one best possible way do this.

“We wanted to offer our services to people outside of our country who really needed clean water,” Stephanie says. “We didn’t know who, and we didn’t know where. But that was our starting point.”

Big ideas seem to have a way of working out for the determined, and the Letchworths were fortunate to know the right people who’d eventually lead them to Kenya and the tiny village of Salama, about 53 miles southeast of Nairobi. The couple’s pastor at nearby Bethany Baptist Church, Phillip Brantley, became friends with the Rev. Nicholas Muteti, a native of Kenya who now serves as senior pastor at Forestville Baptist Church in Wake Forest. Muteti, a published author on church segregation who continues to teach and preach in Africa, pointed the Letchworths toward Salama, an area with no dependable clean water supply.

“People will walk for miles for water,” says Kevin. “They’ll bring their cans and five-liter jugs and carry them back, either themselves or on carts or on donkeys. They’ll take enough home to last them a few days or maybe a week, then they go back again.”

Muteti helped arrange everything for the couple — from the travel and lodging to the contacts in Kenya to make a new water well possible. Planning began in August 2016, and Kevin was joined by Brantley and another member of the church in February of last year.

After two days of travel, they arrived in Nairobi on a Friday night and stayed nearly five whole days — which when you factor in the time to sign the deed for the donated land, find and hire a contractor and run tests on the well (which was constructed before their arrival) to measure production and quality; left little time for sightseeing.

“What makes what we’re doing unique — as opposed to maybe other organizations also trying to do similar wells — is that we know what we’re doing,” Kevin says. “Once we got the well up and running, we taught the people there how to maintain it. The only addition they’ve had to make to it since we left was a barrier around it to keep it from being trampled by elephants … which is a unique problem to have.”

By the time their flight touched ground back in the U.S., Kevin had received a text message — yes, while many in that part of the country lack clean water, nearly everybody has a cell phone — with a photo showing people using the well.

Within days, grass was beginning to grow around the well, and months later, the runoff from the well was sufficient enough to allow for a small garden where vegetables now grow.

“They’re using the water for themselves and for their livestock … they’re doing so much with it already,” Stephanie says.

The Letchworths have been told their well will benefit between 3,000 and 5,000 people in its first few years. The couple immediately set their sights on a second well, and started a nonprofit, the Worldwide Wells Foundation, to raise money for that and for future endeavors (each well runs approximately $30,000 with parts, labor, travel and other expenses factored in).

“I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has led us to do this,” says Kevin.

“The experience in Kenya was just unbelievable — seeing the joy in the faces of the people there, but also seeing firsthand the pain and suffering and the poverty. The pastors we met, they are ministering to many who come to the well. The gospel breaks down many of those barriers.”