BY SARAH ORLANDO
On August 1, 2011, 10 riders and seven volunteers began an adventure called Wheels for Wells (WfW). The goal: Bike 392 miles from Nags Head, N.C., to Ocean City, N.J., over the course of six days. The purpose: Raise $20,000 for clean water projects in Africa.
The heart and soul of the project was Chris Carr, a local graphic artist/web designer and marketing director for Compassion Corps, a local nonprofit organization that seeks to make a difference for those in need in some of Africa’s hardest places. In 2009, Carr traveled to Timbuktu, Mali, with Compassion Corps and saw the dire circumstances that thousands of people deal with every day. Women walk for two hours in one direction to find a well where they can draw water for their families to drink, to use for cooking and washing and to give to their animals. Carr came back from Africa a changed man and began a campaign that led him to August 1, 2011.
This five-state WfW Atlantic Water Tour was developed as a major fundraising event for Compassion Corps and a brave indigenous pastor in Timbuktu. Pastor Nouh Ag Infa Yattara completed his graduate work at Eastern University (St. Davis, Pa.) and returned to Africa, where he works tirelessly to help people survive in his area of the “Belt of Misery.” Compassion Corps has partnered with Pastor Nouh on medical clinics and water projects. They have provided well caps and pumps for two existing wells and resourced the building of a well in the village of Elabdach. Some of the WfW proceeds will be used to finish that well’s cap and pump, giving the people of Elabdach clean water.
Clare (Ruegsegger) Oestreicher, a WfW rider, said it well:
When the idea of riding my bike for 392 miles in one week was presented by my friend Chris, I was excited but not completely sold. I kept thinking about the time away from life, the cost of fundraising, the fear of the unknown. I had this thought that someone else would surely step up to the plate. I waited and waited and soon realized that the opportunity was before me for a reason. I didn’t know it at the time, but the transforming process of believing in something and sticking your neck out for a cause changes your character. I began learning about where the wells would be drilled, how many lives would be impacted, and soon realized this was something that would change my life deeply. Over the course of six days, I watched as Compassion Corps co-directors Jan and Beth shared their passion for reaching the less fortunate in Africa. They gave of their time and talent to impact others—many of whom they may never meet. Their desire to make a difference was contagious!
The event was well on its way and the joy of riding on back country roads made the time in the saddle well worth it. The volunteers were awesome! They greeted us at every rest stop with cold wash clothes and smiles from ear to ear. We were well fed and cared for all along the way. I rode my bike through six states. Can you believe it? Collectively, we raised close to $20,000. They made us feel like we were champions—when really they were the ones making it happen. We rode the bikes and helped raise the funds, but Compassion Corps is changing the world—one well at a time.
With the inspiration of such a successful 2011 event to look back on, WfW has committed to now looking forward. Plans are under way to use this year’s ride to accomplish even greater goals and to bless even more people. Compassion Corps has announced the 2012 Wheels for Wells Mid-Atlantic Water Tour, which will take place this summer from July 8-14and will accept 20 riders. With twice as much sponsorship funding, WfW expects to raise $40,000-$60,000 from its 2012 event.
According to Compassion Corps co-director Beth McMillen:
The goal of the 2012 ride will be to place two hand-dug wells, complete with pump and cap, in two mores villages outside of Timbuktu, Mali, that will serve over 1,000 people. In Liberia, work will be done with various partners of Compassion Corps to restore their broken, contaminated water systems that were destroyed during the war. In addition, an orphanage and community outside of Jinja, Uganda, will receive a borehole well to provide them with needed water for drinking, cooking, and washing.
The money raised from last year’s 2011 bike tour went to serve water needs in three different countries. In the Timbuktu, Mali, region a well pump and cap was placed on an existing well, ensuring clean water for the nomadic desert peoples of Elabdach. In the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, a rural community will be receiving piping that will allow clean spring water from above to reach their village homes below without the contamination of animals and people. In Liberia, a school that serves 300+ students will have a well that will provide the students and outlying community with clean water and improved sanitation, which has been inaccessible to them until now.
The water crisis presents a devastating reality for the people of Northern Africa, but the results of an event like WfW truly can provide solutions and hope. Registration for the 2012 tour opened on the “decide to ride” date, March 12. Visit Wheels for Wells to register or learn more about this year’s event.