"Antigonish-based charity digs deep for solutions to world water crisis" by Meagan MacDonald March 24, 2015 

Published in The Chronicle Herald Opinion. See the full story at http://herald.ca/S8i#.VRNXLpAD9Do.mailto 

Water is necessary for all existence. That’s irrefutable. But the notion that water automatically flows through a tap with a twist of a knob is non-existent in many parts of developing countries. There, consumption of water is a life-or-death matter.Water quality in these developing countries is so poor that drinking it, the source of all life, could kill people. It’s for this reason that Canadians must become more aware of the Wishing Wells Society, an Antigonish-based charity founded in 2000 and dedicated to building wells and irrigation ponds in rural villages.

Wishing Wells was inspired by the work of Father Boniface Mendes (Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales), who worked tirelessly for the poor in his native India. He died in 1998 and in his memory, Wishing Wells was established and completed its first project in India. Since then, it has continued to work in India and take on new endeavours in Haiti and Africa.

Water.org estimates 280,000 people die every year because of poor water quality. In Malawi, preventable water-borne disease limits average life expectancy to 54 years. A well is simply a hole in the ground, unprotected from contamination.

Wishing Wells provides financial assistance to deepen wells, line them with brick and stone, grade their surroundings to prevent contamination, construct concrete tops, install hand pumps and providing training to maintain them. Community members do the work. So the community receives both immediate help and an economic foundation. For every dollar spent on water, there is a $4 economic return, according to Water.org.

That these deaths could be avoided because of something so simple as protecting a well is unsettling. We are ignorant of the truth that water contamination is a big deal.

Water.org reports that 358 million people in Africa do not have access to clean water. An estimated 280,000 people die there each year from preventable cases of diarrhea caused by inadequate sanitation. One in nine lacks access to safe water. Every minute, a child dies of a water-related disease.

The Wishing Well Society is hoping to grow and spread assistance to more villages in need of clean water because only six per cent of international aid went to investments in water in 2011. For more information visit: www.wishingwellssociety.ca/home

"Special recognition for van den Heuvel, Wishing Wells Society" by Richard MacKenzie February 18, 2015

"Exciting Times for Wishing Wells Society" by Mary van den Heuvel January 29, 2015

Left photo: Linda MacDonald, Board Member, with Ramesh Nadava, graduate of the Coady Institute and coordinator of three Wishing Wells 2014 projects in India. 

Middle and Right photos: Before and after pictures of the village well at Kaname, Malawi. The middle photo shows that the wells are dangerous for children to be around and the water inside the well is open to contamination, as there is no covering. The after photo shows the result of Wishing Wells' project. The well was deepened and lined with brick and stone, then the surface graded away from the well, and finally, fixed with a concrete top and a hand pump.

CTV NEWS Atlantic: "Maritimer of the Week" by CTV's Dan MacIntosh January 16, 2015 

"Marthas supporting St. Andrews society's projects" by Richard MacKenzie, richardmac@thecasket.ca January 14, 2015

Sister Donna Brady from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Martha and Mary van den Heuvel from the St. Andrews based Wishing Wells Society talk about a donation of $5000 per year the sisters have pledged to the society for the next five years. Photo: Richard MacKenzie

"Filling watery wishes" - by Richard MacKenzie, richardmac@thecasket.ca The Casket September 10, 2014
For St. Andrews’ based Wishing Wells Society, it’s 52 projects completed and continuing.

This description of the society and its work comes from its website; www.wishingwellssociety.ca.

“Founded in 2000, the society is dedicated to building wells and irrigation ponds in small, rural villages. The projects began in India and have since spread to help communities in Haiti and Africa. The wells provide clean drinking water, which makes for better health for the people. The irrigation ponds enable the growing of crops, which relieves extreme poverty found in these regions.”

A video on the website, titled One Small Kindness – the story of Wishing Wells, captures the inspiration for the society and its origins which founder Mary van den Heuvel touched on Aug. 28. She noted it started with her parents inviting Coady International Institute participants to their home for Sunday visits, a tradition she continued. She said that is how she met Fr. Bonnie (Boniface Mendes).

Wishing Wells Society founder Mary van den Heuvel (second, left) is joined by Fr. Boniface Mendes Bonnie’s sister Maria Eugene Pinto, along with Pinto’s daughter Joan and her family, husband Dylan D’Costa and son Jayden, during a recent get-together in Amherst. Fr. Bonnie, who died in 1998, is the inspiration behind the society and this was the first time van den Heuvel was meeting, in-person, his younger sister. PHOTO: Submitted

“Fr. Bonnie died in ’98 and it was his life, the work he did when he went back was so amazing [it was the inspiration],” van den Heuvel said. “I asked his brother to suggest a project and that was how Wishing Wells really started. We did a project year-after-year. “There were three brother priests in the family. Fr. Bonnie was the older, then Fr. Joe, he is in Atlanta, and then Fr. Felix who is still in India; he is the one we found the first projects with, through his bishop.”

van den Heuvel noted she recently had the pleasure of meeting a younger sister from the family, Maria Eugene Pinto, who was in the Maritimes vacationing with her daughter and her family who live in Oakville, Ont. van den Heuvel met Pinto, who still lives in Bombay, India, along with her daughter, Joan, and her family in Amherst as they made a brief detour into Nova Scotia after spending time in Prince Edward Island and on their way to the Moncton airport.

Joan provided these words about her late uncle becoming the inspiration for so many good and important works by the society. “Fr. Bonnie’s pure soul is reflected in the redeeming ministry of Wishing Wells in providing pure life-giving water to communities in need around the world,” Joan said. “He lived his life everyday reaching out to alleviate suffering around him as best as he could and the work of Wishing Wells continues to realize his life’s purpose. “A heartfelt thank you and God bless to everyone who supports and gives of their time and resources to the charity and its mission.” Pinto, while noting she doesn’t live around a village touched by the society’s work, did note the importance of the projects in India“Unlike Canada where there are vast areas of farmland, in India farming plots are very small,’ she said. “When an irrigation pond fills up with water during the rainy season, it allows subsistence farmers to get more of the fruits of the land.”

 Society’s evolution

While beginning in 2000 informally, Wishing Wells became a society in 2006 and then a Canadian charity in 2009. “Whatever it is the people need, sometimes it’s drinking water, sometimes it’s irrigation ponds, sometimes it’s a drilled well which turns into the better project of cisterns collecting water, as it was in Rwanda,” van den Heuvel said, noting projects start with a submitted proposal and they’ve developed some strong connections over the years with those who request and then oversee the projects.

“In northern India it was irrigation ponds because they did have hand pumps for drinking water but they had massive rains. The crops can only last as long as the rain works for them.” Of those ‘on the ground’ is former Coady participants Charles Kapitapita and Tawina Kopa-Kamanga, who have overseen many projects in Malawi. van den Heuvel described their work utilizing the society as being “down to a science.”


van den Heuvel, along with fellow society board member Oona Landry, spoke with great appreciation for the support Wishing Wells receives locally from such fundraisers as concerts, done mostly in the past, and the collecting of recyclable bottles which is currently their biggest fundraising endeavour.

“That’s the bulk of the money coming in,” Landry said, noting her property has become a drop-off for recyclables in Bayfield while Bill and Marie Feltmate have been kind enough to provide a drop-off site in St. Andrews.

Landry noted other contributions to the project and talked about another growing revenue source – private donations. “I like the way private donations have taken off,” she said. “There are a couple of examples of that. It just makes you feel really good when a family or individual decides ‘let’s do a well’ for whatever reason … whether it be in somebody’s memory or instead of Christmas gifts. It’s wonderful just that people are thinking that way.” An example of a well being done in someone’s memory is one done in Malawi through the Shelby Shines On Acts of Kindness Foundation. The foundation honours the memory of Shelby Gerrior, the Louisdale teen and StFX student who died in an automobile accident in 2010. 

van de Heuvel talked about her parents sponsoring wells in Malawi“This year mom and dad are sponsoring two of the wells in Malawi,” she said. “When they do that Charles (Kapitapita) is happy to put up a little sign that says ‘this well was sponsored by …’ so it’s going to be in my mom’s family name and my dad’s family name. They’re so excited about that.”

"SOCIETY INSPIRES" - by Mary van den Heuvel, Wishing Wells Society The Highland Heart Weekly, March 21, 2014

The official opening of the new well in the heart of Mofati village, serving up cool, clear water.
Photo by Charles Kapitapita

Someone asked me recently “What’s new with Wishing Wells?” When I began to answer, it occurred to me that this thriving organization, born out of seemingly small acts of kindness by my parents some 50 years ago, continues to inspire and touch lives locally in increasingly diverse ways. Yet, the core of our work, and what drives it, continues to be the huge positive impact it has on the communities we serve. 

2013 was a good year, which saw a new trend emerge on the donor side. We received support from five new donors (two family groups, a foundation, and two individuals) who each funded a complete village well project. Two of the projects were in memory of loved ones and others were in lieu of buying gifts, or as a family legacy project. Five of the six well projects supported last year were funded in this way. Our other fundraising efforts enabled us to also support A Partnership in Caring's water project in Save, Rwanda, where eleven cisterns now collect water from every roof.

Wishing Wells received a unique painting as a gift, in appreciation of the well projects done in the artist's home country of Malawi. The painting, called "Mother and the First Child" is unique in that some elements (hair, cloth, mat) are real! It currently hangs at St. Andrews Bergengren Credit Union, and will move to the main branch around the end of May. We used detail from the painting to create new cards for sale; blank cards, sold within packs of 6 assorted, and donation cards, in memory or a gift in someone's name.

And we've been invited to inform others about our work; a cooperative inquiry group, a local senior's outreach program, a grade four class and a church group wanted to know more, so board members took up that challenge. Wishing Wells was also invited to be on site at the Mahoneys Beach Polar Bear Swim on New Year's Day, to invite those who didn't swim, to donate to Wishing Wells. This will be an annual addition to their New Year's Day event.

Wishing Wells is one of 919 Canadian charities whose work falls into the category of “General Health”. Charities self-identify themselves with respect to categories and since water was not on the list of choices we could make, we settled on general health. Now we know how fitting that really is! In Malawi, the average life expectancy is 54 years of age, largely because of the number of children who die from preventable water borne diseases. Many of our projects deepen and protect existing shallow wells and once a well is protected from contamination, the people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

 Mother and First Child - Artist Noah Kapitapita, Image work by Lyghtesome Gallery.

In many of these countries the women and children must bring water home for their family and livestock. The village wells we support are located as near as possible to the majority of the people; at times right in the heart of the village, so, when they don’t have to spend the best part of each day fetching water, children can go to school and women are free do other family or community work.

 Although we refer to them as “our projects” they really are not, because the communities organize the process themselves, supply some materials, most of the labour and contribute money for maintenance. They organize their own maintenance committee, and each member is trained to take their pump completely apart and re-assemble it again. As the examples above illustrate, a Wishing Wells project really does impact the general health of the people (physical, mental, social and economic).

 I’d like to give a big shout out to our wonderful board members Dawn Currie, MaryAnn Forbes, Allan Kipp, Oona Landry and Linda MacDonald. Together our mission is to provide financial assistance where needed for sustainable water systems to improve the quality of life in rural communities, and you can help: contribute to a project or sponsor a well; drop off refundables at 4105 route 316 in St. Andrews; purchase our cards, and like us on Facebook. For more information, go to www.wishingwellssociety.ca or phone 902-863-3719. 

 "Rewarding Project in Rwanda - by Richard MacKenzie, The Casket: www.thecasket.ca November 27, 2013 

Locals take advantage of extracting water from one of the 10 new cisterns in a complex in Save, Rwanda which was supported by the work of local groups the Wishing Wells Society of St. Andrews and A Partnership in Caring, made up of health professionals associated with St. Martha’s Regional Hospital. PHOTO: Contributed

An important water project led by two local goodwill groups has reached a successful conclusion.

The St. Andrews-based Wishing Wells Society announced Nov. 21 that a project in Save (pronounced sah-vay), Rwanda, they joined forces with local group A Partnership in Caring, as well as the Benebikira Sisters in Rwanda, has been completed. Society co-ordinator Mary van den Heuvel said the project was to provide a sustainable water system for a complex with multiple purposes including health centre, school, dorm and farm facility. She noted while the original idea was for a drilled well, unanswered questions with that concept led to Dr. Carolyn Rideout, from A Partnership in Caring, suggesting a focus change to cisterns for collecting rainwater.

van den Heuvel noted the approach was “less risky” and the completed project includes 10 cisterns collecting water from the many roofs in the complex giving them a storage capacity of 60,000 liters of water. “They expect the rain water will carry them through most of the year,” van den Heuvel said. 

Rideout, part of one of the group of health professionals associated with St. Martha’s Regional Hospital who make up A Partnership in Caring, said they were “delighted” to work with the society on the project. “The impact for the community at Save will be enormous,” she said. “The opportunity to help communities in the developing world is extremely gratifying and we are so grateful for the support of our community here,” Rideout added. “We are busily planning our fourth trip to Rwanda in March 2014. We will see first-hand the fruits of our community’s gift to Save and will continue our mission to promote health and education in Rwanda.”

van den Heuvel also commented on the partnership. "A Partnership in Caring brought this project to our attention and they will continue to monitor the project during their regular visits. That means a lot to us. It is only because of local support that we can help great projects like this which have such a huge positive impact on the people and their communities," she said.

In a report she submitted to the society, Sister Augusta Mukarugomoka spoke of their gratitude and the need “We are so grateful to all of you for making this possible,” Mukarugomoka wrote. “We appreciate that your society is focusing its efforts on providing water to African communities because the need is great. Providing the resources for water has a great and lasting impact. We pray for your continued success in all of your efforts to carry out your mission.”

"Shelby Shines On" in Malawi - by Matt Draper, The Reporter September 11, 2013

LOUISDALE - A village in Africa now has clean drinking water, thanks to work done in the name of a former resident.

The Shelby Shines On Acts of Kindness Society, used over $1,000 for a well in Malawi, Africa.

Rhonda Gerrior, the mother of Shelby Gerrior who was killed in a traffic collision three years ago, said her daughter was involved in Richmond Academy’s Interact Committee, an international development group, and interested in raising money for third world countries. To follow that interest, Rhonda said the “Shelby Shines On” Acts of Kindness Society, which provides bursaries and scholarships, toy drives and other charitable offerings for the area, decided to look at helping outside the community.

Rhonda then contacted Dr. Allan Kipp, with the Wishing Wells Society in Antigonish. The society began building wells and irrigation ponds in small rural villages in India back in 2000.

“Through him we were able to get in contact with somebody in Malawi who builds wells in communities and shows the communities how to maintain it,” said Rhonda. “We sponsored a well from start to finish.”

Kipp said he was in Malawi working on wells when he received an email from Rhonda requesting information on the wells. Kipp said he sent her some photos and said if the Shelby Shines On Acts of Kindness Society wanted to sponsor a well it could be done in Shelby’s name.

“I was in Malawi when the seed was planted,” said Kipp, noting he was back home by the time the well was constructed. Kipp noted Wishing Wells was the facilitator between Shelby Shines On and the ground work in Malawi.

A plaque by the well reads “This well was funded by Shelby Shines On, in memory of Shelby Rose Gerrior, a StFX University student from Canada who was always willing to help others”.

“It’s bitter sweet of course because it’s in her memory,” said Rhonda. “She would be very, very happy and proud that this was done in her memory. It’s nice to be able to actually see the final product of where your funds are going.”

The Shelby Shines On Acts of Kindness Society recently brought school supplies to four local schools and they are planning the Shelby Shines On Sorrier auction and dance , the group’s major fundraiser for the year, for September 28.

"WISHING WELLS SOCIETY" - by Mary van den Heuvel, Wishing Wells Society The Highland Heart Weekly May 10, 2013
Shown above is a photograph taken by Allan Kipp, Wishing wells Board Member, when he visited 7 of the projects in Malawi last November. 
Photograph provided by Mary van den Heuvel, Wishing Wells Society

The wishing Wells Society is a registered Canadian charity with a local board of directors based in St. Andrews, Antigonish County, Nova Scotia. According to their website, they have been building wells and irrigation ponds in small, rural villages in India, Haiti and Africa since 2000. The projects provide clean drinking water, which makes for better health for the people and enable the growing of crops, which relieves extreme poverty found in these regions. Local support enables Wishing Wells to continue this good work.

Mary van den Heuvel, Wishing Wells Society was involved in a three-day Digital Story Telling Workshop at ACALA. Mary says "It was a wonderful experience - the process of making the video was fascinating." The video she created is called "One Small Kindness" and you can view it by going to http://youtu.be/nvqPsiYaexM  Here is the voice over from the video which she wrote.

One Small Kindness 

My parents were young Dutch immigrants who knew what it was like to live in a new country, where they didn’t know the language and where they were so far away from their family and friends back home in Holland. So, when an appeal was made, asking families to invite students of the Coady Institute for Sunday visits, they responded to the call. From the time I was 8 or so, we often spent Sunday afternoons with students from India, Africa or South America. And we enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed us!

When I had a family of my own, I carried on that tradition, and that’s how, in 1973 Fr Bonnie came into my life, and changed it forever. He did so much good work when he returned to India. I was in awe of what he could accomplish; pressing on, even though his health was failing. He was constantly being told to slow down, but he would say “No, I want to die with my boots on”! And he did - just that - in 1998.

I felt compelled to do something to honour his life and his work, so I asked his brother Felix to suggest a project we could do in Fr. Bonnie’s memory. He wrote back saying he knew of a village that was “Wishing for a Well”. We held a fundraising concert and made over $1000 more than we needed, so the village was able to dig the well and the rest of the money went to school supplies there.

Because that effort was so successful and it seemed so easy, it just made sense to do it again the next year, and then the next, and every year since then. Today, Wishing Wells is a registered Canadian Charity working on its 30th well project! My heart swells with pride and joy when I think of all those women in India and Africa and Haiti who don’t have walk long distances every day to bring that contaminated water home to their families; and those families now have safe, clean water, close to home.

I’m often asked if I’ve visited the projects and I have to say “not yet”.  Just last month though, someone brought back pictures and videos from seven of the projects in Malawi. It made me realize that I really do need to go and see this with my own eyes - and someday I will.

Wishing Wells is a source of satisfaction for all of us, but especially for Mom and Dad. When I think about it, I’m amazed at how that seemingly small act of kindness by them some 50 years ago has rippled through me and through so many others, inspiring us to extend our love across oceans, enabling clean water to flow in some of the poorest villages in the world.

From the song “Cool Water” by Marty Robbins:

The shadows sway and seem to say 

Tonight we’ll pray for water, cool water. 

And way up there He’ll hear our prayer 

And show us where there’s water

Cool, clear water 

"Video Tells Story of Wishing Wells" - by Richard MacKenzie The Casket May 8, 2013

"Arichat man views Wishing Wells work close up" by Richard MacKenzie The Casket March 6, 2013
Allan Kipp, from West Arichat, had an opportunity to see some of St. Andrews Wishing Wells Society’s support in Malawi up close this past fall.
He said the appreciation shown by the villages was “amazing.” (Contributed photo)

As West Arichat’s Allan Kipp toured villages in Malawi, touched by the support of the St. Andrews-based group, the Wishing Wells Society, the same thought kept coming back to him.
“I wish Mary [van den Heuvel] could be here to see what she is responsible for … to see what she has done,” he said, noting the efforts of the society’s co-ordinator.
Kipp said the appreciation shown to him by the villagers, as a representative of the society, was “amazing.”
“I was greeted by women singing, then there would be speeches and, sometimes, there would be men dancing,” Kipp said of his visits which took place this past fall, the last week of October and first week of November.
Kipp noted the society has, in three years, supported wells in 14 villages in a district which has 22 villages. He added completing the other eight is still in the plans and, along with the 14, two other wells were supported in a neighbouring district making the total 16 in three years.
Kipp said the partnership with the society and work in the area really started at the Coady International Institute since it was a couple of former Coady participants, Charles Kapitapita and Tawina Kopa-Kamanga, who made contact with van den Heuvel.
“They had met Mary and knew she was involved in these kind of projects,” he said.
Kipp said his visit was a kind of “spur of the moment” decision which coincided with a trip he normally makes every year.
“Every year I go to Nepal for two and half months,” he said. “I had never been to Africa so I thought this was a great chance to go and have a look [at the wells]. It’s nice to have a follow-up and see the work that is actually being done.”
Kipp said a key to the wells supported by the society is that they’re easily maintained by the locals and that point was driven home as he witnessed other wells, constructed in the area, which had been abandoned after three years in-use because the villagers weren’t able to upkeep them.
He also took note of the independence of each village and the success of water committees set-up by Kapitapita.
Kipp said the visits, which he did totally on his own, were great experiences in of themselves and seeing the work first-hand was very gratifying.
“It is amazing that a small group centered in St. Andrews could have such a profound effect on villagers and their lives in communities overseas,” he said.
For information on the Wishing Wells Society, around since 2000, visit their website at

Click on this link for the article as it appeared in The Casket March 6, 2013 http://www.thecasket.ca/archives/26644

Society sets sights on Save ~ Aid groups partner to provide help in Rwanda
Wishing Wells Society co-ordinator Mary van den Heuvel. Dr Carolyn Rideout from A Partnership in Caring and StFX environmental science lab instructor
Matthew Schumacher came together last week to talk about a 2013 project the society has started working on in Save, Rwanda. (Richard MacKenzie photo)

by Richard MacKenzie richardmac@thecasket.ca

The local Wishing Wells Society has sets their sights on the community of Save, Rwanda for a 2013 well project. The society was made aware of the need in the community from another local goodwill group, A Partnership in Caring, who has been traveling to Butare, Rwanda, the last few springs to work with the hospital in that community.

Dr. Carolyn Rideout, A Partnership in Caring participant, talked about how they became aware of the need in Save. “During our last visit we befriended the Benebikira Sisters when they asked us to do a palliative care consultation for them,” Rideout said.  “We went to visit their elderly Sisters and they took us to various other projects they’re running. We visited their convent in Save. It’s quite a big organization … they have a farm where they employ a lot of local people, a couple of schools, a primary and a high school, and they have a health centre. So there are about four different structures.”  And, Rideout noted, none of the facilities have running water. She said they, like a lot of places around them, collect rain water as much as they can but when it comes to drinking and water for sanitary purposes, they have to purchase bottled water. “Which is very expensive for them,” Rideout said. “The health centre itself has no running water so it’s very difficult to have any really good sanitary conditions. The health workers can’t wash their hands between patients with clean water so it’s very difficult. A difficult situation which is not uncommon in Rwanda or Africa really.” Rideout said when she returns to Butare this March with A Partnership in Caring, she can offer on-the-ground support for the well project.

Wishing Wells Society co-ordinator Mary van den Heuvel, in conversation with the Casket Dec. 17, talked about where the project stands. “Right now we are at the very beginning stages,” she said. “Kind of like the due diligence stage overlapping with raising money. So we have started the fundraising campaign and we’re hoping for community support. “The community has supported other Wishing Wells Society projects in amazing ways over the years so we’re hoping for the same kind of support.” van den Heuvel noted the actual date for the start of well digging in Save has yet to be determined but the society has asked StFX environmental science lab instructor Matthew Schumacher to act as a liaison with the drilling company in Rwanda.

“I was actually asked by one of the professors at StFX if I would be interested,” Schumacher said. “He knew ground water was my background and informed me of Mary’s [van den Heuvel] cause. He put me in touch with her and it just went on from there.” Schumacher said the original plan was just for him to act as a consultant for the society but his role evolved into where he is the one talking directly to the drillers. “I’ve already sent them an email and now I’m waiting to talk to them directly,” he said. “The challenges will probably be supply and quality of water … that will be the two main issues they will encounter. It’s just making sure they don’t contaminate the water themselves and that, when they drill, there will not be any unforeseeable issues with supply.” Schumacher said he is looking forward to continue work on the project. “I just want to make sure, when this goes through, the nurses [at the health centre] and others will have a constant supply of clean water,” he said.

Those wishing to donate to the Wishing Wells Save project can do so by mail [Box 31, St. Andrews, NS, B0H1X0] or securely through their website at www.wishingwellssociety.ca. The website will also provide additional information about the society such as the donation and/or blank cards which can be purchased, their refundable drink containers collecting and their ability to issue tax receipts.

December 11, 2012
In the past three years our work has mainly been in Malawi, where existing village wells are simply holes in the ground, covered with logs to prevent children from falling in. They have water, but it is not safe to drink. Our projects increase the depth, install cement covers and hand pumps on top of each well, and raise the surface around the wells to prevent contamination. Last month, Wishing Wells board member Allan Kipp, visited each of our 15 water projects in Malawi. See the picture on the Home page.
Our newest project will be in Save, Rwanda. "A Partnership in Caring" the group from St. Martha's Hospital, in Antigonish, NS take an annual trip to the hospital in Butare, Rwanda. During the visit last year, they became aware of the crushing need for a clean water supply in nearby Save, Rwanda. The Benebikira Sisters in the community of Save, operate two schools, three convents and a health centre without running water! They are able to collect water during the rainy season, but do not have clean water for drinking or for the health centre. Wishing Wells has accepted their proposal for a drilled well, which will provide a consistent, desparately needed clean water source. We have enlisted the help of an instructor in the Earth Sciences Dept at St. Francis Xavier University, who will assess the project from a hydrogeology point of view. A Partnership in Caring representatives will be our eyes and ears on the ground as we work toward the drilling of a well for the people in Save, Rwanda. In the meantime, we are raising funds for the project.....
Donations can be sent to Wishing Wells by mail to Box 31 St. Andrews, NS B0H 1X0 Canada, or by clicking on the "Donate Now" button on the left side of this page.
We sell donation cards and blank cards and accept refundable drink containers. Together, we can make this project a reality!
Wishing Wells is a registered Canadian charity (#85100 5728 RR0001), so tax receipts will be issued for all donations. 
Wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas!
Board of Directors
Wishing Wells Society

THE CASKET - Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada March 4, 2010

Wishes of needy lead to wells By Joel Jacobson
KIND IMMIGRANT parents. Moses Coady. A visiting priest from  India. A rural community open to help.
Put them together and you have a project that builds wells in poverty-stricken areas around the world. Wishing Wells started with a small fundraising concert in 2000. Eight years later, the seventh concert will be held on Oct. 19. Since 2000, 10 wells have been dug to provide clean drinking water, and better health, in villages in India, Haiti and Nigeria. It started in 1949 when the van den Heuvels, a Dutch family, bought a farm in St. Andrews, a few kilometres outside Antigonish. They met Moses Coady, founder of the institute that fosters educational opportunities at St. Francis Xavier University for students from afar while enabling St. F.X. students to travel to poor areas for service work. One incoming student was Rev. Boniface Mendes, a dedicated priest who worked with the poor in central India. He developed a friendship with the van den Heuvel family while he attended St. F.X. in 1973 and stayed with them for a time. "My folks always took in visiting students," says Mary van den Heuvel, director of the Wishing Wells Society. "Father Bonnie had a great impact on us. When he died in 1998, I suggested to his brother that we raise money for a project in his name. Rev. Felix Mendes said he knew of an Indian village needing a well that would cost about $3,400.
ary organized a concert at St. Andrews Catholic Church that attracted talent like the Men of the Deeps, Mary Jane Lamond and a pre-famous George Canyon. "We raised $4,400 through the concert and donations," says Mary, who, with her family, has retained her parents’ tradition and welcomes Coady students to her home. "After that first concert, it seemed so easy, so we had to do it again. One year, my sister Minnie and a group of friends made a quilt that was raffled and raised $3,072. Originally we dealt with communities in central India where Father Bonnie was from, and have now expanded in India, plus where there is a need elsewhere." Coady Institute travellers to India have seen the wells and have brought back glowing reports of the gratitude of the people and the benefits of the wells.
Wishing Wells was basically a one-woman organization for the first six years, but in 2006 Mary took a year off from doing a concert to form a board of directors and develop a website ( www.wishingwellssociety.ca). Mary’s sister, Mary Ann Forbes, joined the board that year as treasurer. "My husband Jerome and I raised our four children on our farm and taught them to work, appreciate food and where it comes from," Mary Ann says. "As a home economist, I worked in Malawi with the Canadian Home Economics Association and have connected with Malawi students at the Coady Institute. When Mary told me the Wishing Wells project had become overwhelming for one person to run, I willingly came on board. "She says her son, who teaches English in Taiwan, visited India and saw one of the wells built there. Board member Allan Kipp, an Isle Madame ophthalmologist, has been in India as a volunteer and regularly invites Coady participants to his home. One of them, a priest, took him to Bihar in northern India to see the Wishing Well in the village. Mary notes the first well, in Karivde in Maharashtra state in central India, was a brick pond measuring 3.5 by 4.5 metres that gave people access to water they’d never had before. "They had to carry water from other areas," Mary explains. "This (well) helps the women because they’re the ones who were toting it. A well at Baghela in northern India started as flat ground. Men and women dug the dirt and carried it away in baskets on their heads. Now it’s a two-metre-deep well that collects rain for agricultural purposes.
Mary says the people of St. Andrews and the surrounding area drive the program. For instance, Loyola MacDonald, who runs a convenience store, started collecting recyclable drink containers that were just being thrown away. The money raised from redeeming the deposits is presented to the Wishing Wells project each year. "I saw the potential for this project and have raised over $11,000 over the years," says Loyola, who speaks admiringly of Mary’s efforts. Mary says the work of dozens of local people has helped thousands of people overseas. "The first well was for 32 families," she says. "The next helped more. Now we’ve heard that a bored well in Obeagu, Nigeria, that could cost $30,000 will assist 22,000 families.
She laughs. "I used to commit to build a well, then find the money. Now that there’s a board, we don’t commit until the funds are there. But we know the need is there and will find the funds to fill it."

 Wishing Wells Society by Lynne Danson Barkhouse (December 2007)

Tossing a single penny into a wishing well creates a ripple.  444,400 pennies raised by a Nova Scotia farming community rippled clear across the Atlantic Ocean and led to the construction of seven wells in country villages in faraway India. 

The story of the Wishing Wells Society really begins back in 1973 when Father Boniface Mendes was a visiting student from India at the Coady International Institute, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The missionary’s lifelong dedication to improving the social and health conditions in the poorest rural areas of his homeland was the inspiration behind this memorial project to which Mary van den Heuvel has devoted much of her energy for the past 7 years. 

Fr. Bonnie came to live for several weeks with Mary’s young family on their farm, during his tenure at the institute. In the years that followed, their association grew through letters and photographs, sharing the life and times of the van den Heuvels and that of Fr. Bonnie in his parishes serving the poor. When Mary received a letter from Fr. Bonnie’s brother, Fr. Felix, advising of her friend’s death in 1998, she felt compelled to do something in memory of the gentle, “down-to-earth” priest. 

When she asked Fr. Felix to suggest some mission project to which she might contribute, Mary wasn’t thinking of digging a well.  But that was what a tiny agricultural village in the central state of Maharashtra, India, needed. This farm-born woman could not get past the passage in the letter which read, “It is [the people’s] wish to have a well dug for them that could be used for drinking purpose, to grow a second agricultural crop and to provide water for the village cattle.”  

So committed were the village elders to helping this objective that they were prepared to donate their own land on which the well could be dug. And “the people though poor are willing to contribute altogether Rs.(rupees) 2000…and also offer free manual labour.”  The estimated total cost for this project was Rs.100,000, a small fortune for low-caste Indian farmers who might be lucky to earn a few rupees a day. Taking into account the villagers’ contribution of approximately $66 Can, that left about $3249 Can to be raised. 

van den Heuvel’s first reaction was “I didn’t think I could do it. It seemed so big. What if we only get half a well?” Her husband and two daughters assured her she could, with their help, and that of their St. Andrew’s community and surrounding area. 

An active member of the Roman Catholic parish and a musician herself, Mary was inclined to stage a benefit concert at the acoustically-pleasing St. Andrew’s Church. She approached a couple of her friends with her idea, and in short order, they fired up the enthusiasem of their community which knows all too well that “you don’t miss the water until the well runs dry.” 

Volunteers surfaced to produce and print posters and programs; run lights, sound and staging; and to manage the show.  Donations poured in for the silent auction, raffles and door prizes.  And, of course, there were the musicians – individuals and family groups; singers and drummers from the Afton First Nations Reserve; student performers from the Coady, and from the music department of St. Francis Xavier University (St. FX). 

The first concert took place in April, 2000. A minimum $5 donation was requested at the door. The proceeds from the venue, plus a surprise donation of $635 from the local Scotsburn Milk Producers’ Third World Development Fund surpassed the goal of raising $3400.  In one of the letters received by van den Heuvel after the event, the writer probably expressed the sentiments of the many attendees and participants, saying, “Along with attaining your goal of getting money for the well in India, you accomplished and promoted a beautiful ‘community togetherness’. We were very impressed with the varied groups of ethnic peoples gathered together for such a worthwhile project.” 

By August, 2001, the village of Karivde had its 18-foot-deep by 12-foot-wide well.  A letter from India advised, “the well has plenty of water and it will help [the people] to cultivate three crops in a year.” 

van den Heuvel thought this was the end of what was to have been a one-shot deal.  But just as crops took hold from the new water source in Karivde, a grassroots social commitment to fellow farmers in India had sprouted in rural Nova Scotia. Through continued communication and visits from the missionaries, and contacts with international students at the Coady, van den Heuvel and her team realized there were more wells to be dug.

It was not hard to identify villages that needed wells.  It was not difficult to find individuals, volunteer groups and businesses that wanted to work for the cause. 

van den Heuvel is in awe of the kindness and generosity of St. Andrew’s and its Antigonish County neighbors. Eight local women handcrafted a log-cabin quilt.  Gifts have included paintings, etched prints, photographs; handcarved objects; weaving and embroidery; all by professional artists.  Potted American elm trees, cameras and Antigonish theatre passes were among the prizes. Scotsburn Cooperative Services Ltd., the biggest single supporter, renewed its financial support in even more generous amounts each year.     

In van den Heuvel’s carefully-documented commemorative albums, programs list dozens of performers from Nova Scotia and abroad – singers, dancers, fiddlers, instrumentalists, comedians, and choirs – all looking forward to sharing in a project that has taken on a life of its own.  

As the project grew, and spread from the first four villages concentrated in central India to include destitute tribal farmers in the northern Bihar region, Wishing Wells supporters took a keen interest in the activities in each area, asking how the funds were disbursed and whether goals were being met. 

Were local men and women being hired for construction, at a fair wage? Were the villagers contributing some of the work, thereby having a stake in the long-term viability of the project?  Was there a local committee of villagers in place to participate in decision-making and yearly maintenance?  How would women benefit from the project?  Could indigenous trees be planted to further stabilize the area? Would the project provide a detailed and certified account of how the money was spent?  And please, send photos at all stages of the well’s development. 

A daily stipend of Rs.60 for men and R.45 for women would keep the villagers working together for a cause that would benefit the whole area in the long run, replied the Bishop of Purnea.  All the work would be done by the local people, except for professional tasks such as pump installation.  Women would no longer have to trod miles to get water for clothes washing, and watering the cattle for which they are responsible.  They would be able to do other tasks in the village, such as establishing kitchen gardens and planting trees. There were hopes a fishpond might be a spin-off operation. And most important, a summer crop could be considered, to make up for loss of activity in the monsoon season. 

Most years, enough money was raised to construct a well.  Some projects expanded to include not only water for irrigation and livestock, but drinking water, and a washing station where women could congregate on the steps to accomplish daily chores.

In 2006, van den Heuvel and the organizing committee decided it was time to take a breather from the huge job of mounting concerts, to focus on forming a registered society. 

One board member, during a personal trip to India, has seen firsthand the extent of Wishing Wells’ impact in the village of Baghela.  He noted that while the Roman Catholic Church’s Social and Education Society is the funnel through which funding flows, it is heartening to see that people of all religious faiths benefit from the Nova Scotian effort. He praised Wishing Wells for sending aid to the lawless state of Bihar where few other organizations risk working, and where, in a deeply entrenched caste system, ‘untouchables’ live in abject poverty, earning a yearly average of $94 Can.  

The Society has a long wish list, including finding other organizations, communities and individuals with whom they can partner, and strengthening the relationship between themselves, the Coady and St. FX. Volunteers have turned a successful recycle program, begun in 2005, into an annual event. The group intends to continue the non-denominational distribution of monies they raise, and recently joined forces with four other communities in Antigonish County with a view to expanding their support to needy farmers in other countries.

While there are other worthy projects to which the Society could turn its attention, van den Heuvel’s team will remain focused on looking for communities who need access to clean drinking water. “Building wells is our focus,” says van den Heuvel. “We started with friendships…farmers helping farmers…and they never died.”

Don’t tell Mary. It’s a Secret!

In the summer of 2005, people scurried in and out of MacDonald’s Convenience store, glancing over their shoulders to make sure Mary van den Heuvel was nowhere in sight. St. Andrew’s locals had received a secret flyer in their mailboxes or in their grocery bags, hinting that they might not only want to drop off all their refundable drink containers but that they might also like to sign up for sorting and bagging, too.  

Word spread that people could help build a village well with refundables. That September, at the Wishing Wells concert, the community was proud to present a surprised van den Heuvel with a cheque in the amount of $1446.   

The newly-formed Board of Directors has decided to use this new avenue to top up the Wishing Wells bucket each year. Van den Heuvel marvels at how her one-shot-deal gesture in 2000 has become the dedication of her community-at-large. “You take this little piece of an idea and it just keeps on growing into something bigger and more wonderful,” she says with a modest smile.  

Left to right: Mary van den Heuvel, Oona Landry & Minnie van de Wiel at the 2005 Wishing Wells concert in St. Andrews, Antigonish County, Nova Scotia.

$1446.48 being presented to Wishing Wells by the secret Refundables committee.

The Casket Printing & Publishing Company (2006) Limited

By Erin Delorey, August 2, 2006

It’s no longer a secret, you can tell Mary van den Heuvel. MacDonald’s Convenience Store in St. Andrews is accepting donations of refundable items to go towards funds for the Wishing Wells project.
A counter is located at the front of the store, indicating how much money has been raised so far. The goal is to reach $1,500.
“People are getting the word and remembering,” van den Heuvel said. “So I’m thinking by the end of the summer, we should top that thing.”
The Wishing Wells program was started by van den Heuvel as a memorial project for Father Bonnie Mendes, who was a close friend of hers that she meet while he was studying at the Coady International Institute. When he left, they remained in contact, up until his death.
“He was digging wells, he started a social services centre, and then, suddenly, we got a letter from his brother,” van den Heuvel said. “I wrote to him asking what kind of project we could do in his memory. The wish was to have a well for this village, and he gave us all the details.”
A concert was held at the local church to raise money for the well. They raised $1,000 more than was needed to build the well, so the project continued.
“People seem to be happy to have this avenue of direct support, even farmers helping farmers, ordinary people helping people over in India and third world countries,” van den Heuvel said.
Wishing Wells became an official society recently and named a board of directors with seven people. It has helped build wells in India since 2000.
A concert is held, usually, once a year as the major fundraiser for the project, except for this year. The society decided to let the projects that are already started in India be completed before they start another.
The newest idea for Wishing Wells is collecting refundables. It began as a secret to be kept from van den Heuvel. Brochures were distributed through MacDonald’s Convenience that explained the idea and that it was on the down-low.
“Seeing how the world has become more environmentally friendly in the past few years, I came up with a notion, it was spearheaded by lots of other people, of course, to do recyclables for Mary, and the money to go towards the wishing wells project,” Loyola MacDonald said. “It’s such a wonderful project that she does. We raised over $1,400 last year, that’s over 45,000 items, plastic or cans.”
MacDonald said she sometimes thinks about how often we take water for granted.
“When I turn on my tap, when I jump in the shower in the morning, when I use it for cooking,” she said. “To think if we didn’t have it, how would we be living?”
MacDonald encourages everyone to bring their cans and bottles to the side door at MacDonald’s Convenience.
Mary Ann Forbes, van den Heuvel’s sister, is also involved with Wishing Wells. It is important to her, as it is to the rest of her family, to help those in need.
“Water is the basis of everything,” she said. “Our mission is to provide water to those who need it.
Forbes said that the project focuses on communities in the north of India, in the Bihar region, because the people there are neglected by their government.
A website is in the making for the society. Retired teacher Walter Strapps will be constructing the site, with the information complied by Yifru Beyene, a development and sociology major at St. F.X. The site can be accessed at www.wishingwellssociety.ca.
“It’s a great motivation,” Beyene said, “if recyclables can make a change in people’s lives, and if people commit themselves in contributing, how much a change can we make.”
He volunteered as an intern with Wishing Wells for several weeks.
People in different areas of the county are collecting refundables for Wishing Wells.
“This is something we want to continue in the summer months,” van den Heuvel said. “The number of bags of refundables that we’re getting now is increasing.”