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A couple's thirst for water

By Nathalie Moberg
Jan 20, 2015
Tens of thousands of children are alive today because of Dave and Dana Dornsife’s vision, perseverance, and long-term commitment to solving the world’s clean water deficit. Their partnership also is a significant factor in World Vision’s standing as the world’s No. 1 provider of clean water in rural communities.
© Abby Stalsbroten/World Vision
Dave and Dana Dornsife are devoted to spending time with the people who benefit from the clean water the couple provides throughout rural Africa.

Dave and Dana Dornsife take philanthropy to a whole new level. Passionate about clean water, they travel throughout Africa, entering into the work to bring clean water to hundreds of communities where children had been dying at alarming rates.

“After you see what water does in relation to stopping disease and changing quality of life, it’s like flipping a switch that changes lives,” Dana says.

Dave and Dana have been flipping that switch since 1990 in Malawi. The California couple has funded all or part of 10 drill rigs, each rig providing 35 to 50 wells every year. They have financed so many wells in thirsty communities that they’ve lost track of the number.

The number they do remember is the 748 million people who still don’t have clean water. So the couple also supports learning centers and water labs that allow World Vision’s hydrologists and other staff to learn from each other’s successes, challenges, and ideas.

The Dornsifes spend plenty of time in the field as well. In early November, Dave and Dana traveled to four Southern African countries, working side by side with village elders, women’s groups, water committees, community members, and World Vision staff to ensure water plans were moving forward. This was Dave’s 34th and Dana’s 16th visit to Africa.

“It’s really important to see the work firsthand,” says Dana. “Unless you go, you’re totally working on assumption.”

The relationships the Dornsifes build in the field foster mutual respect and opportunities to learn about a community’s needs, further strengthening the work. Dave contributes his engineering acumen. Dana brings her wisdom and compassion. Both provide unwavering vision to improve life for those they serve.

The work also requires patience and fortitude, as Dave and Dana learned in rural Ghana in 2006. An entire village had gathered near the drill rig to celebrate the water they expected to come bursting from the ground.

“I was talking with the women,” Dana recalls, “and in the background we noticed how many sections of drill steel were being added on the drill rig. We started getting a little nervous because we knew where the water table was, and they should have hit water by then.”

The drilling crew kept trying, but no water was tapped that day. “It brings tears to my eyes right now,” Dana says. “We got back in the Land Cruiser with heavy hearts. Just driving away and turning around and looking at these people, we felt like we abandoned them. That had never happened to us before, and I will never forget that.”

But neither the Dornsifes nor World Vision would give up. The drilling rig returned, and finally the community celebrated the arrival of clean water.

Dave and Dana faithfully walked with World Vision as the work of providing life-giving clean water expanded and matured. Better-equipped leaders and staff and new technology brought more precision in locating water and in drilling. Many lessons were learned along the way, and slowly the practices and principles that guide today’s extraordinary water work emerged.

One of the major advances is ensuring communities add sanitation and hygiene to their daily habits before they receive clean water, further reducing the spread of disease.

In 2015, World Vision is expanding its water, sanitation, and hygiene coverage from 10 to 22 African countries. This growth is possible in part because the Dornsifes inspire others to join them.

“If we’re going to change some of these things in the world, we can’t do it alone,” Dave says. “We need others’ buyin and support. And it’s been very effective.”

As Dave and Dana have helped transform others’ lives, they themselves are changed through the people they have met, the insights they have gained, and the satisfaction in serving others. “We all possess the capacity to change these communities,” Dave says. “If more people understood that, we’d get the job done a lot faster.” Undergirding all this work is Dave and Dana’s faith.

“Bringing water, sanitation, and hygiene to a new person in Africa every 30 seconds is an unbelievable accomplishment,” Dave says. “Our successes and guidance have come from God. This is our chance to truthfully do what we’re asked to do biblically, and that’s serve the poor.”

Addressing the global clean water crisis

Today, World Vision is the largest nongovernmental provider of clean water in the developing world.

Since 2011, large-scale water projects in 10 African countries have provided more than 10,500 sustainable wells and water points for more than 2.7 million people.

It's like flipping a switch that changes lives.
Dana Dornsife
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