By Larry Urish     1/24/2017

Think you can’t live without your morning cup of coffee? Consider this hypothetical: Suppose you have the opportunity to save the life of a young child, provided you sacrifice two cups of coffee. That’s what it comes down to: a human life for two cups of java.

Anyone with even a molecule of compassion would obviously save the child. Incredibly, this situation is not hypothetical. You actually can help save a youngster’s life by ditching only two cups.

This very real opportunity exists, thanks to Wells of Life, a Mission Viejo–based nonprofit committed to furnishing drinking-water wells for thousands of people in rural Uganda. Founded in 2009, the organization drills wells for $6,000 per well, and each one provides clean, safe drinking water to an estimated 1,000 Ugandans. The math is simple: Only $6 – or the cost of two cups of brew from your local coffee emporium – can save one person in dire need. To date, Wells of Life (wellsoflife.org) has drilled 245 such wells, and an additional 20 have been funded.

But why focus on water in a world with so many other pressing problems? Pete Callahan, a partner at CTSC Law and president of Wells of Life, has an astonishing answer: “One out of every five kids in Uganda dies before age 5 – primarily because of dirty water.”

Without wells, mothers and their daughters are forced to walk for miles every day to a watering hole in order to haul some 40 pounds of filthy water back to their village.

“Animals defecate in these water holes, and mosquitoes breed there,” Callahan says.

According to the World Health Organization and UNESCO, one child dies in East Africa every 22 seconds due to contaminated water. In addition, most of rural East Africa’s female population never receives an education; they’re too busy lugging dirty water for hours every day.

“Uganda is not an arid country,” Callahan says. “The problem is that it’s underground. …. The tragedy is that [water] is often less than 50 feet away.”

With easy access to clean water, the infant mortality rate drops 50 percent, and villagers can spend far more time engaged in other daily chores. Women and their daughters no longer need to walk miles for water, allowing girls time to attend school.

The benefits are felt halfway around the world. By helping to fund wells, local children learn about the power of empathy and humanity. They later see photos of the very people they’re serving, and the Ugandans, in turn, see images of the young people who have changed their lives.

“One time, after I gave a school presentation, a group of kids walked away and returned about 20 minutes later with a $24 donation – all in singles and coins,” Callahan says. “I said, ‘You have actually saved the lives of four people.’ The kids were impressed.”

Wells of Life’s mission is rooted in a faith-based philosophy. Biblical verses abound with references to drinking water, and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a detailed description of Catholic social teaching published in 2004, has this to say about water: “The principle of the universal destination of goods also applies naturally to water, considered in the sacred Scriptures as a symbol of purification and of life. … As a gift from God, water is a vital element essential to survival; thus, everyone has a right to it.”

While many of the wells are dedicated to those who funded them – grateful Ugandans want to know who to thank whenever they draw water from the wells – often the donors are not named on the dedication plaque, Callahan says. Rather, donors list the names of the people they wish to honor. Since most of those involved in Wells of Life are Catholic, it’s no surprise that many have been dedicated to prominent figures in Orange County’s Catholic community, including former diocese leaders The Most Reverend Bishops William Johnson, Norman McFarland and Tod Brown.

“We recently [dedicated a well to] Bishop Kevin Vann,” Callahan adds. “He’s been very supportive of our efforts. He’s a very caring person.”

Others with wells dedicated in their names include Msgrs. Arthur Holquin and 101-year-old Tony McGowan, as well as a growing number of local parishes and schools.

The funding of the group’s operational expenses, which are far lower than that of most other nonprofits, comes from separately allocated donations. And launched last March, the Legacy Donors gift fund has invited 25 people to make a five-year pledge that will underwrite the cost of running the organization itself. The upshot is this: All of the donations set aside for drilling wells – every single penny from individuals, families, schools, churches and corporations – is used for that purpose only.

Getting involved can be as easy as lacing up a pair of athletic shoes, thanks to Wells of Life’s Run4Water 5K/1K, which will take place on April 23 at Laguna Niguel Regional Park. Last year’s event funded 20 wells. This year’s goal: fund 40 – or save 40,000 lives.

Wells of Life ultimately wants to build 100 wells a year and furnish clean water to more than 1 million Africans. It’s a lofty goal, but “Water is an absolute necessity,” Callahan says. “These people are our brothers and sisters, and they need our help.”