The Last Well began in 2009 with a simple premise: provide access to clean water to all the population in one of the most corrupt and poor countries in the world. By the end of December 2020, they may achieve the ultimate goal.
In this World Water Day we want to highlight the work of The Last Well. We spoke with Founder and Executive Director Todd Phillips on the groundbreaking commitment to this country and the reason why answering a higher calling led to water sanitation projects in this Western African nation.
In Liberia there is this saying «water is life».
Across the country, people are aware about the importance of water, how central it is to a community prosperity but decades of corruptive government practices, political divisions and a brutal civil war (1989 – 1997) deviated the attention from this natural resource to power, money and violence.
In the late 2000s, Pastor Todd Phillips, who was leading a Christian church in Washington D.C., started receiving many petitions by young university students and adults to do missionary and voluntary work inspired by the slave trade movie Amazing Grace.
The call to help abroad and share the gospel was alluring but there were two questions to answer first: Where is the most challenging place in the world? And, what is the greatest need in the world?
In Liberia, the second most corrupt country in the world back then, the greatest need the once small Christian group decided to undertake was to provide access to clean water.
«One person every 15 minutes were dying from preventable waterborne diseases in Liberia, half those people were children under the age of 15,» The Last Well Founder Phillips said. «Our goal was to use the provision of clean water to build relationships with the people and earn the right to share the Christian message».
The desire to make a radical impact in the country was met with skepticism at first.
«When we came in we were very naive to the levels of corruption and actually when we got there, it was close to becoming a failed state so every system and structure that we were used to in the United States didn’t exist there,» The Last Well founder said.
Although a good relationship was formed with the Administration of then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of the country, which enable the nonprofit organization to continue expanding their impact on the country, communities took a long time to trust the initiative.
«They lacked a sense of hope and belief that we were coming in and doing all the work. It took us about the 5 years, almost half a decade, to really get the government and the people of Liberia to understand that we were serious about staying until we see these goals accomplished», Phillips said.
The 2014-2016 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa helped grow the entity’s projects due to the urgent need for sanitation and clean water access.
In over 10 years, The Last Well has reached over 2 million Liberians by leading on 8,000 safe-drinking water projects and gospel initiatives calling, employing and working with local contractors, priests, organizations and community leaders.
The work on the ground does not only include drilling wells but also providing water solutions to villages such as good sanitation and filtration systems for small homes.
The ultimate goal? Achieve the remaining 900,000 Liberians without access to clean water by December 31st, 2020.
By today, March 22nd, that number has reduced to only 350,000 people left to reach, according to Phillips.
When asked about plans for 2021, Phillips explained the mission in Liberia will be accomplished by that time and they are currently exploring if that means the end of The Last Well or the beginning of a new commitment to another country with corporate or government sponsorship.
«We got a system that works, we have the ability to move our team and move elsewhere,» Phillips said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic media coverage is focusing on preventive measures reminding people to wash their hands frequently and clean surfaces, World Water Day in 2020 seeks to highlight the importance of universal access to safe-drinking water and sanitation, #6 Sustainable Development Goal for 2030.
Phillips understands the negative impact the pandemic is having on people, countries and global economy.
«COVID-19 seems to affect the attention of the world in a far more global scale but the water issues are ongoing, it is a crisis. For example, when ebola outbreak (2014-2016) was over, (an estimated of 11,310 deaths, according to WHO), that same amount of people die every three weeks due to waterborne diseases around the world. It is helpful at this time to reflect upon the reality that the crisis of COVID-19 and what is doing to health, mortality and businesses and somehow connect it to the reality that there is a far larger crisis out there that we have not solved and it is solvable. We do not have a vaccination for COVID-19 but we have a solution for water crisis», Phillips explained.
You can learn more about The Last Well here: https://thelastwell.org/
Photo Credit: The Last Well