Frequently Asked Questions

Your Questions Answered

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  1. Who can go on an overseas trip?




Q) What are stipends for if everyone is a volunteer?

A) Everyone here in North America with Lifewater Canada is a volunteer. We send what we call a "stipend" to the local workers that Lifewater trained in-country. This "stipend" covers their fuel, local supplies and equipment and also provides enough money so that they can put rice on their table while drilling wells, building washrooms and conducting health & hygiene workshops. Back to List of Questions

Q) What causes the difference in number of wells and washrooms constructed year-to-year?

A) The number of completed projects depends on the amount and timing of donations that we receive in-country construction challenges and reporting. Sometimes we run short on project funds and need to wait for donations to come in. Another factor is the timing between project completion and when we receive the required documentation. For example, wells and washrooms may be completed in July and donor documentation prepared in August. If shipping delay's result in us receiving these documents after August 15, they will be reported in the next fiscal year. Delays caused by civil unrest, impassible roads during rainy season, photo developing problems and shortages of pump parts or key drilling supplies have resulted in variable number of projects being reported in different fiscal years. Back to List of Questions

Q) How much do cheques have to be to receive a taxable receipt?

A) Cheques for $20 or more will be receipted if made out to Lifewater Canada and we have the persons name, address, phone number and, if possible, email address. We do only one yearly mail out, with a small newsletter and return envelope. If you would prefer to have this by e-mail, please let us know and we will accommodate you. Back to List of Questions

Q) How many people are serviced by each well?

A) Typically 300 - 600 people draw water from each well, but the number for any specific well can be as low as 50 and has been over 1000. To try to estimate this number, we observe the number of huts and talk to village elders. However, once a safe drinking water supply is established, people from surrounding communities may come to draw water. We try to keep the number of people supplied by each pump to fewer than 300 to minimize wait times to draw water and to reduce social disruption caused by crowds of women and children waiting to draw water (noise, littering, pump misuse, conflict potential over fee collection and water drawing times etc). Managing the number of people depending on any one well also maximizes the amount of time between required repairs since over-use will lead to more frequent breakdown. Back to List of Questions

Q) What provision have you made to deal with broken handpumps and basic handpump maintenance?

A) This is a very important issue, one that we continually work hard to overcome. The life saving health benefits of a safe drinking water supply are lost if a pump breaks down and people revert to using traditional unsafe sources. We address this problem in several ways: 1. First, we start with community health & hygiene training to ensure that villagers understand the link between disease and bad water and sanitation. The greater the understanding, the more likely they are to maintain projects long-term. 2. Second, communities must participate in the project by contributing time and energy, money, and supplies. This builds a sense of ownership which also leads to sustainable, long-term care. 3. We work with the village chief to make sure the village is aware that there will be a cost for the routine maintenance work and that they need to save funding for this work. 4. A Caretaker is appointed by the village for each project and is trained by Lifewater. They are responsible for keeping the area clean, the well locked between drawing times to prevent pump damage from improper use, and collecting user fees for the repair fund. They also are instructed on the early signs and symptoms of pump wear and are responsible to contact the local pump repair technician for maintenance work. 5. For every project cluster (3-8 wells and/or washrooms), a Repair Technician is appointed by the communities and trained by Lifewater. This Technician is then available to perform routine maintenance when contacted by local Caretakers. If there is a major breakdown, he then will be responsible to call Lifewater's Repair Technician. 6. Lifewater has a database to track project information such as repair history, maintenance contract details and Caretaker/Chief contact information. This ensures that projects are not forgotten and abandoned when they spoil. Back to List of Questions

Q) On what basis was the decision made to go into Nigeria and Liberia as compared with other possibilities in Africa, India or maybe even China - are there plans to do so in these latter countries?

A) In 1994, Jim Gehrels, current President of Lifewater Canada, met a pastor from Liberia who said it was pointless to talk to people about the love of God when they are suffering and dying because they lack something as basic as safe drinking water. He was moved enough to want to use his training and experience as a government Hydrogeologist to go and help him. God also touched the hearts of other people and put a burden for West Africa on their hearts and this has kept the program going and helped it grow and expand over time.

We want to ensure that we stay effective, and it really helps that we know and understand West African culture, people, climate and geology. To ensure that donor dollars carry the biggest "bang-for-the-buck", we have kept our focus in West Africa. We know that over 90% of our wells drilled here will find safe water within 60 feet of ground surface using the small, portable Lone Star drill rigs. This helps us keep our cost down to $3,000 or less per well, and enables us to help many villages in need. One of our guiding principles is "Because the need is overwhelming, do the easy ones first". God willing, we will go back in the future to work in villages where deep wells need to be drilled in hard rock or where complicated water treatment units are required.

We have recently started to support other drill teams as the Lord has been gracious to Lifewater and we have had many requests from donors for wells in Kenya. Presently we are working with 2 different teams in Kenya, 2 teams in Nigeria and in 2007 are sponsoring 5 wells in both Haiti and Zambia.

However, logistics become much more complicated when you start to work in many different places and we really want to keep our overhead under 5%. Therefore, for now when we get requests for help from Asia, Central and South America and other places, we refer them to our friends at Lifewater International ( They are a separate non-profit group based out of the USA that is working less intensely but in more countries than we are. alternatively, we keep a maintain a NGO Water List of other organizations working in water and sanitation on our web site Back to List of Questions

Q) What improvements have you made in the teams efficiency to increase the number of wells drilled?

A) Once or twice a year, a team of professionals go as volunteers to Liberia to help the drill team do advance drill training. Several years ago, a retired couple from the USA stayed in Liberia (at their own expense) for 1.5 years helping the team improves their efficiency and logistics, equipment maintenance etc. which significantly improved production. We also set-up a team of Liberian workers to go ahead of the drill crew, teaching villagers about basic health & hygiene, signing construction contracts with villages and helping them organize and mobile required material so that less time is wasted when the drill team arrives. We are also trying to focus on clustering projects and working closer to the teams' home base. Finally, we are constructing a compound in Liberia so that drilling and pump supplies can be bought in bulk and stockpiled to minimize time spent gathering items for each project. Back to List of Questions

Q) Other than photographs of the completed wells/latrines - what other methods does Lifewater Canada use to make sure that work has been carried out and that indeed brings value to the community and benefit the number of people (as forecast) and in an un-bias manner?

A) Volunteers from Canada and the USA go the Africa every year to audit previously completed projects to ensure that they were actually completed. We have never found sponsored projects that did not exist and that is indeed gratifying.

We have been working on various assessment evaluation forms to quantify project benefits, but the forms are only as good as the data we can collect. Health data from clinics is often non-existent and we need to rely on infant death statistics as reported to us by villagers. There is clearly a pattern of significant health improvements after wells and latrines are built, but these are hard to objectively substantiate.

We have observed that the life saving health benefits of a safe drinking water supply are lost if a pump breaks down and people revert to using traditional unsafe sources. We are continuously working on ways to improve long-term maintenance and have started charging villagers some money for new wells so that they have a sense of ownership. This is hard when large groups like UNICEF and others do everything for free. However, we have learned that if villagers are not willing to contribute upfront, it is also unlikely that they will be willing to contribute when the pump is in need of repair. Back to List of Questions

Q) What percentage of donations is secured from outside Canada (International donations)?

A) We receive significant donations from families, schools and church groups in the USA, UK and Australia. In recent years, 10-15% of our revenue has come from international donors. In addition, we receive contributions from the villages where we work. Village contributions are especially critical in terms of villagers taking ownership of their well project and not just sitting back and receiving a handout. These funds go directly to the local Lifewater crews and are not reflected in our financial statements. Back to List of Questions

Q) Do you accept donations of publicly traded securities?

A) Yes we are set up to receive Canadian stocks and securities. There is a form that needs to be filled out by the donor and a paper security certificate needs to be issued and sent to our CIBC Account Manager. For purposes of issuing the income tax receipt, the donation is valued at the highest amount the securities traded for on the day they are received into our CIBC account. Back to List of Questions

Q) Do you ship supplies to Liberia?

A) We periodically ship supplies to Liberia, but it is very expensive (up to $10/square foot or per pound)! We are happy to since the war has ended, more supplies are becoming available in Monrovia so we ship only what is absolutely necessary. Right now this includes drilling polymer, Llttle Beaver drill rig parts, mud pumps and water testing supplies. Back to List of Questions

Q) I was wondering why there is such a discrepancy between the cost of wells built by Lifewater Canada and the cost of wells built by many other organizations?.

A) Because Lifewater Canada is powered by volunteers working from home, our overhead is less than 10%. Also, our overseas partners are staffed and run by local African people, so we do not have to cover the cost of keeping North American staff in the field. Finally, we are focused on doing the easy ones first. Given the extreme need, it is our goal to put in as many wells in needs villages as possible. We are using small, portable drill rigs that can quickly drill wells up to 100' in areas not underlain by hard rock. As a result of low overhead and targeted drilling using simple technology, our total program cost is kept down to less than $6,000 per well. Back to List of Questions

Q) How do we select where to drill?

A) Wells are selected in two ways. Normally we let our local workers select drilling locations. They receive many requests and prioritize them according to need. In general, clinics, orphanages and schools without safe water are the highest priority. Sometimes we are contacted by people, non-profit groups, service clubs or other organizations wishing to have a well drilled at a specific location. In this case, we charge the full cost of the well, with $500 being a non-refundable deposit with the remainder paid upon successful completion of the project. Back to List of Questions

Q) How do we show proof of credit?

A) We do not send sponsorship money until work is completed and we have received the required documentation. This includes a copy of the well record, a thank-you letter from the village and photos of the village and the completed well or washroom. In addition, every 12-24 months we have volunteers from North America spot check to verify that work has been completed and that it is done well (we have never found any false reporting). When a well is finished and the funds paid-out, we then look for a sponsor. When a sponsor is found, their name is gratefully added to our website. We deliberately do not attach a plaque with the sponsors name to the well since we want the villagers to take ownership of the well. Back to List of Questions

Q) Does Lifewater Canada Have a Privacy Policy?

A) Lifewater Canada respects individuals’ privacy and are committed to keeping personal information accurate, confidential, secure and private. Details are summarized in our Privacy Policy. Back to List of Questions

Q) How long does it take to drill a well?

A) Most wells are completed in 5 days. Drilling is often done in 1-2 days, but it can take months to ensure that a village has received health and hygiene training, has raised required funds and is mobilized to work. Back to List of Questions

Q) How long can a well stay functioning?

A) If properly constructed and maintained, a well could theoretically last forever. In shallow African aquifers, bio-fouling and chemical precipitation may limit the life of some wells, but most should last decades or centuries! When wells stop being used, it is usually because users move away (such as decommissioned refugee camp), handpumps break down (they need maintenance every 6 - 36 months), natural groundwater quality is unpleasing users (high iron staining, sulfur rotten egg smells etc) or they were improperly constructed. There are usually far more construction problems with wells that are dug by hand rather than drilled by machine such as wells being too shallow (go empty during dry season) or having poor annular seals (surface contamination makes water unsafe to drink). Back to List of Questions

Q) Do you give tax receipts to US citizens?

As you can see from our web site, many of our donors are from the USA.

  • Some give on-line through Canada Helps and use the tax receipt that they automatically issue, Others send there money directly to us and use the receipt that we generate. We have never heard of people having problems using these receipts for their taxes but if audited, this deduction could be disallowed.
  • You can also send funds to one of our USA partners and receive a USA tax receipt. Just be sure to designate your funds for the "Lifewater Liberia Project" when sending your donation to any of our receipting partners:
    1. Flowing Streams Ministries (attn: Mr. Mike Turvey)
    2. Global Horizons (attn: Dr. Herb Klem)
    3. Lifewater International (attn: Ms. Pat Klever)

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Q) Who can go on an overseas trip?

A) Overseas trips are made 1-2 times per year by small groups of volunteer trainers (3-6 people). Our focus is on helping train and equip the local people. While a few repeat donors are welcome on each trip, most spots on the team are held for volunteers who have the professional expertise in subject areas that the local workers are looking for more training. Volunteers wishing to travel overseas should consider the following points:

  • Volunteers are usually gifted in drilling, education, pump construction, sanitation, health, education, construction, engineering or business management.
  • Volunteers raise money to cover their travel and trip costs.
  • Volunteers who travel overseas representing Lifewater should feel comfortable with the Christian principles that Lifewater shares with its partners.
  • Before traveling, volunteers must have hands-on training. A few days of training will not make you an expert who is able to go overseas and teach others. However, this training can help YOU to better understand the work and associated challenges and can help you better prepare for your trip so that you can be as effective as possible. We strongly encourgae you to also read as much as you can about cultural awareness, communty mobilization and micro-enterprise.
  • We do not currently offer training here in Canada. However:
    • We also worked with Lifewater International developing a client-centred, sustainable handpump maintenance training program. They also offer short courses in Community Based Development, Biosand Filters, Hygiene Education, Sanitation and Shallow Well Drilling. For more information on training opportunities, please Contact Lifewater International directly.
  • If you meet these criteria and are interested in participating in a 2-3 week training trip to Liberia, please E-mail us


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Every $1 you give provides a child with safe water for a year!

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