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Where pure water is pure gold

Maryland bank director brings safe drinking water to Africa

Well driller Ken Wood (in blue shirt) has helped bring pure water to so many Ghanaians that he was ceremoniously named “Chief Living Water.” Well driller Ken Wood (in blue shirt) has helped bring pure water to so many Ghanaians that he was ceremoniously named “Chief Living Water.”

Clear, cold, clean water—you’ll be craving a glass of it before you finish this article.

Imagine walking five or more miles a day to a crocodile-infested river or a stinking, scummy pond to get your daily water for everything from drinking to washing. Imagine that water potentially killing your children, or leaving them or you blind from disease. That is what faces many people in rural Africa.

Now, imagine that pure flowing water could be had—if you could sink a well 30 feet. Bank director Ken Wood has been personally helping to bring that about in Ghana and, more recently, in Tanzania.

Wood has been a water-well driller in Maryland and Delaware for decades, running a family business and sinking thousands of wells. In 2006, his Lifetime Well Drilling, Denton, Md., had an old truck-mounted drill rig to sell. A Pennsylvania-based charity wanted to buy it to drill water wells for areas in Ghana where it did missionary work. Wood decided to simply donate it.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Actually it was just the beginning.

The charity came back to Wood and asked if he could come to Africa to show Ghanaians how to work the rig. He wasn’t so keen on that, says Wood. He was very busy.

But two weeks later, Wood, who serves on the board of Provident State Bank, Preston, Md., attended the Maryland Bankers Association annual convention. An inspirational guest speaker from Ghana spoke of his life back in Africa and told how precious water was to his people. It changed Wood’s mind.

“When God rings the phone, you’d better pick up,” says Wood. He went to Ghana for what would be the beginning of a series of water drilling trips. Today, he and other members of his family and friends travel to Ghana or Tanzania four times a year. Wood’s efforts have resulted in 1,130 water wells thus far.

Wood’s first trip ultimately involved his donating not only the original truck rig, but additional vehicles, equipment, and boring supplies. That first exposure showed him just how much suffering bad water caused.

Wood’s commitment to African wells has grown from that beginning. All the drilling equipment, piping, storage tanks, and hand pumps that keep the water flowing come from Wood’s operation. Government officials organize village water committees, typically comprising local women, who supervise the well and pool funds toward pump repairs.

But Wood has personally borne much of the cost of producing the wells in the first place. As this became a personal mission, he sold a vintage Thunderbird that had originally been meant as the beginning of a car collection. He sold real estate he owned, and he channeled funds to the project from winnings of harness horses he owned.

Wood has borrowed for some purchases, and he also accepts donations, which have chiefly come from Provident State Bank and his fellow bank directors.

Wood has no regrets about what he’s sold and what he’s spent. “Once you get over there and see the devastation, and what life there is really like, having things will not make you happy,” he says. Over time, he intends to have every grandchild over there at least once to witness what he’s seen, “so they see how good they have it.”

For himself, in spite of being 70, Wood intends to keep at it, drilling as well as training the natives to operate the equipment.

“I’m going,” maintains Wood, “until I croak.”

Learn more about Wood’s projects at www.wellsforghana.org

Steve Cocheo

Steve Cocheo’s career in business journalism has taken him to all 50 states and nearly every corner of banking in institutions of all sizes. He is executive editor of ABA Banking Journal, digital content manager of ababj.com, and editor of ABA Bank Directors Briefing. He coordinates the popular Pass the Aspirin and First Person features and wrote the booklet series Focus On The Bank Director. He is the only journalist to have sat in on three federal banking exams, was a finalist for the Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards, and a winner of multiple awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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