Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2012, 7:50 am

Walking in Moline can help dig wells in Africa

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Pat Herath holds a map of Niger, Africa, in her Moline office, Tuesday, September 4, 2012. She started the Wells 4 Wellness organization to raise money to drill wells in Niger, Africa. She earlier had campaigned for new wells in Cambodia, but has refocued on Niger. Her organization will host a 'wells4wellness' 5K run/walk Satuday, October 6, 2012, to raise money for new wells.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Pat Herath holds a map of Niger, Africa, in her Moline office, Tuesday, September 4, 2012. She started the Wells 4 Wellness organization to raise money to drill wells in Niger, Africa. She earlier had campaigned for new wells in Cambodia, but has refocued on Niger. Her organization will host a 'wells4wellness' 5K run/walk Satuday, October 6, 2012, to raise money for new wells.
MOLINE -- Cellphones are plentiful in Niger, Africa. Freshwater is not.

Pat Herath wants to change that, like she tried to do in Cambodia.

After spearheading efforts to dig seven wells in Cambodia about five years ago, friends in Niger asked Ms. Herath, "Why haven't you helped us?"

''So in 2010, I raised enough money for three wells there,'' Ms. Herath said.

Earlier this year, she quit her Delta Airlines job, and formed ''Wells4Wellness,'' overseen by a seven-member volunteer board. The nonprofit's goal is to raise enough money to drill 33 wells in Niger, starting with four by the end of the year or by the beginning of next year, she said.

A colleague at Calvary Church of the Quad Cities heard about her efforts and volunteered to organize a benefit 5K run/walk.

''I didn't even know what a 5K was until he told me all about it,'' Ms. Herath said.

Yet, she quickly accepted the offer from her new friend, Byron Brown, who recently relocated to the Quad-Cities when his wife was transferred here with the First Army, Ms. Herath said.

She hopes the event, to be held at 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at the church, at 4700 53rd St., Moline, ''will make a big splash in the Quad-Cities,'' no pun intended, she said.

So far, more volunteers than runners have signed up for it, Ms. Herath said. She's hoping more participants will register at wells4wellness.com.

According to a tentative budget, if 300 runners/walkers sign up for the event, the organization could raise $6,000, Ms. Herath said.

Each well costs $2,500, ''as long as there are no problems,'' Ms. Herath said.;

When workers drilled the first well in Niger, however, they broke a diamond-head drill, she said. When they tried digging a second well, a truck got stuck in the mud. Those type of problems increase costs, Ms. Herath said.

Race entry costs $22 if registering by Oct. 5, or $25 on race day. Commemorative T-shirts will be available to the first 500 people who sign up. Special doggie T-shirts will also be available for people who want to walk with their dogs.

Awards will be given to the top overall male and female finisher, and the top male and female in the master's category. Age groups will include 10 and younger to 80 and older, she said.

The course will start and finish at the church's pavilion. The route is flat, fast and features a beautiful view of natural wetland habitat along the north shore of the Rock River.

Registration and ''goodie-bag'' pickup will be from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, in the church parking lot.

Ms. Herath said she expects a successful event because of the overwhelming positive responses. She said people can't say ''no'' to wanting to help small kids get clean water to drink.

'"A majority of infant and child deaths in rural Niger are linked to contaminated water, lack of hygiene and inadequate situation,'' according to pamphlets Ms. Herath created to promote the race.

''Sixty-four percent of Niger's rural population lacks access to clean water,'' materials say. ''About nine in 10 citizens lack a proper way to dispose of their own waste. These water woes promote disease, stagnate education and economic growth, and result in the majority of rural Niger's infant and child deaths.''

Existing wells are scattered so widely, women and children spend many hours walking many miles a day to retrieve water, according to Ms. Herath's information.

Drilling more wells and installing more pump stations can alleviate the problem, but most Niger communities don't have enough money to do so, which is why Ms. Herath wants to help.

To illustrate the difficulties people in Niger face, Ms. Herath plans to have jugs of water people can lift and carry if they want to experience it firsthand.

Wells in Niger also have to be extra deep, and it's often difficult to get equipment to where it needs to be, she said.

''Often, there are no roads, so before you go to a village, you have to call and let them know you're coming,'' Ms. Herath said. ''Yes, they have cellphones all over but not roads. When you call them, they often send someone on a bicycle, who leads you down a trail to the village.

"It's often difficult to get big trucks in there. My ultimate goal is to buy a rig sometime and teach them how to drill their own wells.''