The Last Well: A VitalStorm Partner With a Big Dream

by on June 14, 2018

the last well

If you’re not keenly aware of what it does, the innocuous mid-sized plastic bucket with a hose-looking contraption dangling from it doesn’t demand much more than a glance or two.

Perhaps, you may think, it’s a crude way of siphoning water into cups, or of serving as an alternate method of dispensing some other sort of liquid. You’d be half-right, but you’re thinking too specifically. The hose-thing is a filtration system, and what it does is much grander and more important: it saves lives.

The bucket-and-hose is something a company called Sawyer Products manufactures, and it’s one of the many ways an organization in Rockwall has been meeting the most basic of needs in a country that so desperately needs it. The Last Well has made its mission to ensure the country of Liberia receives clean water, border-to-border, by the year 2020. The idea started when Todd Phillips, who has extensive work in the missionary field, was in the midst of pastoring a church in Washington D.C.

He was struck by the story of William Wilberforce, an English politician who had dedicated his life’s work to ending slavery, almost literally, and Phillips began looking for what he called his “Wilberforce moment” – a singular desire to carry out something as large and impactful as what Wilberforce did.

In D.C., stacks of data were pulled from available sources on the Hill, and what Phillips and the people who joined with him found was that Liberia, a small country in West Africa, was at or near the bottom of every list in what is known as the “misery index.” Corruption, disease, poverty, food scarcity – Liberia was suffering from it all.

“It was the common denominator. They wanted to

reach an entire people group to end and

alleviate some kind of issue in their area.”

– Ryan Tew, The Last Well Director of Development

“It was the common denominator,” said Ryan Tew, The Last Well’s Director of Development. “They wanted to reach an entire people group to end and alleviate some kind of issue in their area.”

What they found when they dug deeper, however, was that water was critically needed in Liberia. They’d suffered more than 300,000 deaths because of waterborne illness over an eight-year period ending in 2008, and without the basic need for clean water being met, the rest of Liberia’s troubles could easily follow suit.

Phillips knew they needed to figure out a timeframe to aim for, so he asked for some numbers.

“Todd says he can remember this one guy raising his hand in one of the meetings, and 20 or 30 people are there,” Tew recalled. “This guy says, ‘Let’s do it in five years’. So this is 2008, and this thing hasn’t even started, and he says let’s do it in five years. In 2013.”

Five years wasn’t quite feasible, so they settled on 12 – the goal became to give everyone in Liberia clean water by the end of 2020.

Ten years later in 2018, The Last Well has made substantial progress. They’ve reached more than 1.7 of the roughly 5 million citizens of Liberia with clean water, and they’ve provided border-to-border access to clean water to five of Liberia’s counties – they’re akin to states here in America – with several more already funded. They’re aiming to have 10 of the 15 counties completed and certified by the end of this year, leaving four for 2019 and one – the biggest one – for 2020.

“Our organization sees it as a opportunity to build a

foundation — the foundation being that

Water is Life.”

– Ryan Tew, The Last Well Director of Development

“No nation’s ever been reached border-to-border, from what we have seen. There’s just a lot riding on the next 30 months,” Tew said. “Our organization sees it as a opportunity to build a foundation — the foundation being that Water is Life.”

There is another layer to this whole undertaking – The Last Well is driven by a Christian faith, with the goal to share the love of Jesus with everyone in Liberia in addition to providing water.

“Without water there is no life, so you build a basic foundation for others to build off of,” Tew said. “Whether that’s schools or clinics or more churches. But, yes, with our ultimate goal being the gospel. To get them an eternal impact with the truth of the love of Christ and what that can do to their lives, that’s what drives that passion here on staff.”

They’re able to partner with various organizations to help carry out their vision – through contract workers in Liberia that actually dig the wells and water systems, to ministry partners that join forces to add more sets of hands in every area.

VitalStorm is one of those partners. Jeff Light, one of VitalStorm’s owners, knew Phillips and heard about his idea. Light loved the idea and relayed it to the other owner, Josh Moran, who immediately jumped on board. VitalStorm began making contributions in 2013, and it has been ever since.

To Moran, deciding to set aside an amount for this cause – a cause he believed in – was a no-brainer. VitalStorm has a set of core values, and the company is always looking for ways to demonstrate those in the community – and across the world.

“I believe you express your thankfulness by

being generous. You’re not really thankful for

what you have if you can’t share it

with other people.”

– Josh Moran, VitalStorm Co-Founder

“Most people in the world don’t get to pick their career path, their dream job,” Moran said. “And if we can reach out and help like this, then absolutely (do it). I believe you express your thankfulness by being generous. You’re not really thankful for what you have if you can’t share it with other people.”

Thankfulness, Innovation and Care. They’re just three of VitalStorm’s core values, but they’re integral to the company’s identity. The Last Well checks all of those boxes, and then some.

“Through our thankfulness, I’m inspired by The Last Well, just by the innovation that has to go into planning something like this. And it’s not like they’re just going to put a grid over Liberia and go drill wells, it’s per capita,” Moran said. “They have some rules and guidelines, and some areas are going to get more wells than others. … to overcome all the obstacles and challenges they’ve had, it takes a creative person to figure that out. I look at them as innovators: changing the world by changing someone’s circumstances.”

It’s not hard to see why The Last Well was such a perfect candidate to partner with. All you’ve got to do hear about the impact the organization has in Liberia, the stories that come from the people who have never known anything but disease-ridden, poisonous water.

Hearing members of the Last Well talk about witnessing Liberian citizens see their brown water go through that hose and come out clean is like hearing about a miracle taking place. “It transforms lives,” Tew said.

It’s become such a groundswell of a movement that word of what The Last Well is doing is reaching villages before the organization itself has a chance to.

“They had shared the gospel, given them clean water, and these people started to go and tell other communities what had been done,” Tew said. “Our partners left, and these community dwellers started going to the villages around them and telling them, ‘Water is coming, and Jesus is bringing it.’

“They’re doing this without our partners even knowing it. It’s almost like there’s a movement and an energy afoot that we’re doing our best to keep up with. These people are expecting it.”

“It’s almost like there’s a movement and an energy

afoot that we’re doing our best to keep up with.

These people are expecting it.”

– Ryan Tew, The Last Well Director of Development

The energy is notable, but The Last Well isn’t slowing down. They’re still doing their due diligence to make sure this isn’t a one-time event. They conduct follow-ups later down the road, revisiting villages to make sure everything is working correctly and that the residents know how to operate whatever they’ve been given.

And it’s working. The rate of diarrhea, which is one of the leading causes of death in Liberia because the lack of water leads to severe dehydration, has plummeted.

“After the second follow-up, the incidents of diarrhea are down to 1.5 percent of the people, whereas before it was 35, 38 percent,” said Randy LeTourneau, the Vice President of Field Operations.

These water-filtration systems have become so valuable, that families refuse to sell them. They’re simple, but they’re most peoples’ most treasured possession. That’s how much what The Last Well is doing means to people who have never known such a thing as a consistent source of clean water.

Where children used to have to trudge six hours each way to retrieve such a basic necessity, they’re now able to make the trip in half an hour, total.

The change The Last Well has been able to make in such a short amount of time is nothing short of staggering. Glance at the numbers, and your jaw will drop.

“We’ve seen more than 70,000 lives that were

actually saved rather than lost because of the

water provision in the country.”

– Ryan Tew, The Last Well Director of Development

“When we started, nearly 50 percent of the country didn’t have access to clean water, and we’ve seen a drastic change in that,” Tew said. “Statistically, all those people who would be dying, aren’t. We’ve seen more than 70,000 lives that were actually saved rather than lost because of the water provision in the country.”

Seventy thousand lives saved, simply through access to clean water. It’s astounding to think about, and quite sobering.

That’s what you’re doing when you partner with VitalStorm. Not only are you seeing results for your business, but you’re seeing real, crucially important undertakings in the world. That’s what The Last Well is about, and that’s what VitalStorm endeavors to be a part of.

It just goes to show the power of what one small group in Rockwall, Texas, can achieve with the right mindset and the right people. And once Liberia has full access to water and the gospel, there’s no telling what this extraordinary group will move on to next.

“I know when 2020 hits, (Phillips) is going to be off to something else, some other ridiculously big cause,” Moran said. “And he’ll do it, he’ll get it done.”

Whatever needs changing next, The Last Well will be there, and the team at VitalStorm hopes to be part of it.