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STATE magazine Fall 2012

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or alumna Alyssa Peterson, 23, enriching the lives of
South African orphans and youth is a lifestyle.
Peterson, a 2011 biological sciences graduate, made
her way to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, during summer 2008.
She planned a three-month stay to help a friend start an after-
school program called “Thanda,” which means “love” in Zulu.
As Peterson realized she needed to finish what she had started,
those three months turned into a full year.
“It was a pull I can’t explain,” says the Edmond, Okla., native.
“It was just a subconscious thing telling me, ‘You’re not supposed
to go right now.’
During the past four years, Peterson has researched, estab-
lished and maintained sustainable aid programs in South Africa,
rst through Thanda and co-founded, with Chi Omega sorority
sister Ashley Hesser, Ubuntu Youth. “Ubuntu” means “I am
who I am because of who we all are.” Its mission is to produce
tangible, positive change to develop Africa’s future leaders.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development,
South Africa has the world’s largest population of current HIV
and AIDS infections at 5.6 million. Because of the disease,
more than half of the country’s 15-year-olds are not expected
to live to 60, and by 2015, 2.2 million children are expected to
be orphaned.
As Americans, we make up less than 4 percent of the world’s
population,” Peterson says. “We easily could have been born in
another country in a hut with no running water. When you see
poverty like that firsthand, you can’t help but feel pushed to do
something about it. For me, it has become an obligation.
Fighting for Futures
OSU alumnae empower South Africa’s youth.
Thanda recently became self-sustaining. It awards $9,000
monthly to support education, meals and activities for orphans
and families of those with HIV and AIDS. The organization is
working to bring hope to thousands of children as a model for
community change.
Peterson and Hesser, 23, founded Ubuntu Youth as an after-
school program for high school students in KwaZulu-Natal. The
goal is to increase education among current and future genera-
tions. Ubuntu helps local leaders find sustainable routes to a better
tomorrow through art, agriculture, technology and sports.
“In a community where teenagers become the parents when
their parents pass away from HIV or AIDS, they become respon-
sible for usually six to 10 siblings,” Peterson says. “We want to
empower them, help them realize it isn’t the end of the world and
show them what they are capable of achieving.
Ubuntu Youth started when South African student Sbu Goba
wanted to help his impoverished community. After receiving an
education degree from the University of South Africa, he began
mentoring high school students in KwaZulu-Natal, showing them
how many opportunities they have by recounting his journey
to success.
“Goba’s success helps Ubuntu flourish. The kids look up to him
as s shining star,” says Hesser, a 2011 nutritional sciences graduate.
Hessers involvement began when she joined Peterson for a
summer of preliminary research. Now managing director, she is in
charge of the Creative Arts Program, where she shares her love of
music. She also plans a nutritious menu for the program.
“When I visited for the first time, it was completely different
than I had anticipated,” Hesser says. “They weren’t expecting us to
just distribute handouts. They really wanted to work.
FALL 2012
Ubuntu Youth provides daily, immediate support for high
school students, teaching them to overcome challenges in a
country with a poverty rate of 47.1 percent. South Africa has
an unemployment rate of 25 percent, more than three times that
of the U.S.
Peterson recently received a $10,000 grant to research micro-
nance in Peru, India and South Africa. While attending OSU,
she received the 2010 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award and
was a 2011 Women for OSU Student Philanthropist of the Year.
Since graduating in December, Peterson
and Hesser have returned to Edmond, where
they each volunteer 40-60 hours weekly
for Ubuntu Youth planning and outsourcing. This year they
are focusing on collaborating with South Africans to create
income-generating projects for the economy, with a monthly
budgetary goal of $5,000. They rely heavily on agriculture,
where they are searching for good connections to broaden their
network stateside.
“Thanks to the local chief, tribal council, schools and
community, this project stands a chance,” Peterson says. “They
want this project here and our help. They are showing us this by
their actions.
Commitment from South Africans has been crucial. The
KwaZulu-Natal community is donating two abandoned struc-
tures for the organization’s use. They also intend to build a new
facility out of shipping containers, allowing them to use resources
available while encouraging the community’s involvement.
“They don’t need ideas. They need resources,” Hesser says.
“These people really do crave change.
Peterson sees the community’s needs as so pressing that she
is delaying her enrollment in medical school.
She believes everyone can bring something to the table,
whether it is a CEO’s financial support or a college student’s
simple concept.
“Most people say to themselves, ‘What can I possibly do
to help?’” Peterson says. “We want people to see this
more as an investment, realizing the real change
they are able to make this very moment.
OSU alumnae Alyssa Peterson and Ashley Hesser are helping these children through
Ubuntu Youth, an after-school program in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
OSU alumnae Alyssa Peterson, left,
and Ashley Hesser founded Ubuntu Youth.
For more information,
The Water4 Foundation, founded by two
OSU alumni, is working to provide afford-
able water pumps along with training on
maintaining them to African villages where
fresh water is scarce.
FALL 2012
Two OSU alumni empower African communities
by giving the means and knowledge to tap a
sustainable fresh water source.
One Well at a Time
Lots of people talk about changing the
world. Two lifelong friends, OSU alumni
Steve Stewart and Richard Greenly, may
just do it.
Stewart was lying in bed one Sunday
morning in 2008, recovering from pain-
ful back surgery. He was mulling over an
invention he was working on for Greenly:
a water pump that would cost less than
$50, be so easy to operate a child could
use it and could be made in Africa.
Stewart had recently quit his job at a
granite shop and had just three months
savings to keep him, his wife and their
two children afloat. He had made up his
mind he was going to spend the rest of
his life doing something worthwhile.
In his mind, he saw a prototype of a simple water pump
sketched out 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci. He’d seen it in
a book he bought during a trip to Italy. His breakthrough came
suddenly, and he crept out of bed to put it together.
“In a split second, all the 2½ months came together,” Stewart
says. “Two hours later, I had a prototype together that hasn’t
changed today. I shot water over my back fence onto the street
behind my house. Every hair on the back of my neck stood up.
“I knew we had just discovered something that was going to
change …”
… the world,” interjects Greenly, seated next to Stewart in
the offices of their charity, Water4 Foundation, in Oklahoma City.
Today, Water4 is part of the largest humanitarian well-drilling
project in the world, Greenly says. Part of a new wave of charities
touting sustainability-focused social entrepreneurship, Water4 has
a 1,000-well project in war-torn Angola, a country where poverty,
the ravages of a 27-year civil war and waterborne diseases keep
life expectancy near 55 years.
The United Nations’ water resources project reports that one
in six of the world’s people lack “improved water sources,” or a
source likely to provide safe water. Diarrhea is the leading cause
of illness and death, the program’s website states, and nearly all of
those cases are due to a lack of safe water for hygiene and unsafe
drinking water.
In countries such as Angola, sewage in populated areas is
frequently dumped untreated into rivers. In rural areas, inhabit-
ants walk several miles for water from sources that are often
infested with animal waste or parasites. Persistent illnesses affect
everything from farm productivity to education levels.
The cost of waterborne diseases weigh heavily on govern-
ments, too, which must spend an estimated 12 percent of their
public health budgets on treating the most common types of
illnesses, the U.N. reports.
Solving the water crisis in Africa is difficult.
Nongovernmental organizations haul large drilling rigs costing
thousands of dollars into rural areas, drill one well and install
a pump. The pumps work for a while but are mechanically too
complex for the locals to maintain. The cost of such endeavors
makes it difcult to help more people.
In the next five years, Water4 intends “to eliminate water
problems country by country,” Greenly says.
Water4’s approach means villages gain clean new wells with
cheap, easy-to-x pumps by training locals to manufacture,
install and fix them. The finished wells cost about $1,000 —
much cheaper than more common methods.
What makes Water4’s approach so promising is that it’s
sustainable. Water4’s former trainees are now business people
with a trade.
The founders of the Water4 Foundation,
OSU alumni Steve Stewart, left, and
Richard Greenly, are providing affordable
and sustainable ways for African villages
to pump fresh water.
FALL 2012
Greenly, co-owner of Pumps of Oklahoma with his wife,
Terri Greenly, came upon the idea after volunteering for mission
work in China in 2004. A geologist, he learned one of his engi-
neers was involved and three months later he “woke up sleeping
next to a pig in a village,” Greenly says.
His group traveled across southern China and installed solar-
powered pumps in small towns that lacked clean drinking water.
The Greenlys’ company, which has been in his wife’s family since
1968, donated the equipment.
Greenly’s work began to gain more notice. He traveled to
San Antonio and spoke to President George W. Bush’s council
on water in emerging nations. He went to Sierra Leone in West
Africa with an Oklahoma City group, 4-H.I.M., to drill wells.
Getting around sometimes via hollowed-out log boats, his
group drilled several wells that cleaned up the water resources
for entire communities. Deaths from waterborne diseases plum-
meted, he says.
“We knew we were on to something,” Greenly says.
But solar pumps were too expensive and heavy to have a huge
impact. He needed a hand pump. The problem was he didn’t
know how to make one that was both cheap and reliable.
That’s when he figured he’d call Steve Stewart, his brilliant
buddy from back when the two were students at Heritage Hall in
Oklahoma City.
The buddies played tennis at the private school, chased girls
and hung out. When it came time for college, Greenly packed
off to Golden, Colo., and the Colorado School of Mines to
study geology. Stewart went to OSU, where he studied industrial
psychology. Things didn’t work out for Greenly in Golden, so
Stewart talked him into Oklahoma State.
Both men graduated in 1982. Stewart started a small business
and moved to Edmond, Okla. Greenly took a job as a petroleum
geologist with an oil company.
Over the years, the two friends stopped keeping track of
each other.
Greenly lost his job during the oil bust. Greenly, who’d just
gotten married, moved to Yukon, Okla., and began working for
his father-in-law at Pumps of Oklahoma. Greenly worked his way
up in the company, and with his wife bought the business from
his in-laws in 2005.
Stewarts furniture-manufacturing business closed after
22 years, and he began running a granite shop for Northwest
Building Supply. While Greenly was looking for wells to dig after
his stay in China, Stewart worked until his back surgery, when
an estimated 15-day recovery turned into an 18-month ordeal.
“It was the most brutal thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
While I was trying to get better, I would do things that stimulated
my mind.
Villagers construct a water pump
developed by Water4, the founda-
tion established by two OSU alumni.
Unable to do much out of the house, he watched the Learning
Channel, the History Channel and Discovery. He comes from
long line of tinkerers and inventors. His grandfather, an accoun-
tant, invented several things including a folding dustpan that his
son helped assemble as a young boy to sell during the Depression.
“I must’ve watched the history of concrete 11 times,” Stewart
says. “All of a sudden, I was learning things and seeing how tech-
nology had progressed.
One Easter Sunday, he broke down while at the dining table
with his wife and kids. He decided he was going to spend the
rest of his life “looking for the most significant thing I could get
involved with.
He circled a target date on his calendar 90 days away. He
would start looking for the coolest nonprofit he could find.
A couple months later, Stewart was nearing his last day on the
job when a water pump went out at his granite shop. He knew
Greenly’s company could provide a new one quickly, so he called
his old friend about a replacement.
“I called him right back, I said, ‘Stewart! I can’t believe you’re
on my voice mail,’” says Greenly, who had been meaning to call
his long-lost friend to talk to him about his pump idea. The two
set up a lunch, and, through a twist of fate, it ended up being on
the exact date Stewart had circled on his calendar.
During lunch, talk ranged from business to Stewarts back
and Greenlys work in China and Sierra Leone. Greenly told him
about the hand-drilling method he was using that made it easier
to drill deeper wells in places such as Angola, where there’s a ton
of available labor and time, but no equipment or training. Greenly
asked Stewart if he’d help him build and develop a hand pump,
and Stewart agreed.
“He goes, ‘I’ll start tomorrow,’” Greenly says. “I go, ‘What
about your work?’ He goes, ‘This is my last day at work — today.’
I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘Build your hand
pump. Didn’t you just ask me to build a hand pump?’ I’m like,
‘Seriously, dude, this doesn’t pay any money. This is for funsies.’”
Stewart knew this was his chance. Greenly’s plan called for a
pump that had few parts and no O-rings or leathers — the things
most likely to fail in conventional pumps. It had to be durable,
light and able to pump water up from 80 feet underground.
“I found out later the reason he called me was that I wouldn’t
know that what he was talking about wasn’t possible,” Stewart
says. “I had never built a water pump from scratch.
“Ignorance,” Greenly cackles, “100 percent ignorance made
you the most qualified person.
Living off his savings, Stewart spent the next few months
working on the pump design. He read Leonardo da Vinci’s book
repeatedly, poring over each illustrated invention with a magnify-
ing glass.
Greenly kept trying to show him how water pumps work, but
Stewart refused to listen. He wanted to come up with his own. He
recalls hours spent in hardware stores’ PVC pipe section.
“I felt like every security camera was focused on me,” Stewart
says. “They must’ve been thinking, ‘What is that guy doing still
on that same aisle?’”
And not ever buying anything,” Greenly says.
And not buying anything — just trying to see how things slid
together,” Stewart says.
He visualized how one would assemble Leonardo’s pump with
today’s materials. He worked on it at his house, starting with how
oil and windmill pumps work. He noted their chief flaws — they
use mechanical pressure that can cause parts to wear out. He
produced about a dozen prototypes before the final one that sent
a triumphal jet of water over the fence behind his house.
The group’s luck continued. Greenly attended a leadership
conference for business people at a yacht club on Lake Michigan.
He met up with a pastor there who later talked to his congrega-
tion about Greenlys work.
A church member gave the pastor a $100,000 check for
Greenly, who couldn’t take the money because he hadn’t set up a
bona fide charity yet. That led to the birth of Water4. Greenly and
his wife started fundraising.
I found out later the
reason he called me
was that I wouldnt
know that what he
was talking about
wasnt possible. I had
never built a water
pump from scratch.
— Steve Stewart
FALL 2012
Their first trip was to Zambia in 2009. Stewart had never
been on a trip like that before. They flew in on a single-engine
plane over the Congo, landing on a primitive runway that was
basically dirt, grass and asphalt in the middle of nowhere.
Later, they improved their drilling process by developing a
dry drilling method. Stewart, with no background in anything
related to drilling, pieced together a combination of augers and
cable tools for a manual way to drill. Since then, they’ve drilled
approximately 400 wells in 30 countries.
Greenly and Stewart have set up 26 active drill teams work-
ing in their local communities. Employees for Water4, along with
volunteers who have been trained at Water4’s headquarters in
Oklahoma City, travel carrying 50-pound portions of the pumps
and drill kits to the villages that pay for them.
In the villages, the groups train members of the community
how to drill their own wells. Water4 partners with nonprofits to
nd the right people who gather information on villages in need.
Then Water4 volunteers travel in teams to set up a few wells
before the villagers operate on their own.
“Theyre doing that as a business,” Greenly says. “To drill a
water well in Zambia, it’ll cost you $10,000 with a mechanized
drill. Ours is $1,000. We make them, and they install them as
a business.”
Often, they’ll do multiple wells in one community.
“Thats the major difference,” Stewart says. “Instead of a
truck coming in and drilling one well, our guys drill eight wells.
The foundation’s next step is to ramp up fundraising. It’s
preparing for a 7,000-well project in sub-Saharan Africa. The
vision includes starting vocational schools and expanding part-
nerships with organizations such as World Vision International.
With only a few employees in the Oklahoma City office,
Water4 has brought clean water to nearly half a million people.
The two OSU alumni set out to change the world, and they
may just do it.
Stewart and Richard Greenly and their efforts with the
Water4 Foundation, visit