Converting Wine into Water
By Shannon Kozee and Adam Smith
September 2, 2009
Solving the water crisis with ... alcohol?
When Doc Hendley moved from Boone, N.C., to Darfur to serve as an aid worker, he learned about and experienced unspeakable atrocities, not the least being the desperate need for clean water. Hendley wanted to do something. So, he formed Wine To Water, an organization that doesn’t just provide water to people in developing nations, but gives them the means to solve their own water crisis in a sustainable way.Wine To Water partners with groups across the globe—from Africa to South Asia—on well projects including old well rehabilitation, emergency latrine construction, training and resource centers that build and distribute bio-sand filters, entire water system construction and new well drilling. “The idea is that people will forever be able to maintain access to clean water,” Hendley says.
A former bartender, Hendley decided to fund his new venture in a unique way. “We consider ourselves a Christian organization because we try to operate in the way that Jesus would have us operate,” Hendley says. “However, we tend to overturn the traditional paradigms, because our promotional events are wine tastings held in bars.”
Wine tastings can raise eyebrows in conservative Christian circles, but Hendley defends his approach. “The first miracle Jesus did was turning water into wine at a party when the host needed it,” he says. “We are just putting our own twist on it. We host parties with wine and collect donations that turn into clean water for people who need it.
“Some conservative Christians might be turned off by the whole idea because they think drinking is a bad thing, but I do not agree. There is nothing wrong with food, television or caffeine either, but any of those could be unhealthy if consumed in excess.”
To Hendley, using wine to raise money for clean water seemed natural. In fact, Wine To Water is expanding their fundraising from just wine tastings to including their own brands. “My favorite one is actually the label we are working with right now,” Hendley says. “Our first official Wine To Water wine brand should be out by the end of the summer.”
Providing water to such a war-torn region is no easy task. There are mortal dangers inherent in getting water to a people group who are the victims of genocide. Hendley has seen these dangers firsthand.
“Two of my Sudanese staff members were killed,” he says. “One was shot execution style on his way back from taking the salary I had just paid him to his wife and children. He was killed by the Janjaweed militia group because they knew that he helped to rehabilitate wells in rebel-controlled areas.”
Hendley’s passion has also put him in harm’s way. “[The Janjaweed] shot my truck full of bullet holes with their AK-47s. I suppose God was not ready for me to die yet. ... Either that, or they all had terrible aim.”
To host your own wine-tasting benefit for Wine to Water, you can find event tools (including invitations, brochures and fact sheets) at WinetoWater.org. Doc Hendley was recently selected as a CNN Hero. You can vote for him to win the grand prize at their website.