Bartender’s Charity Helps World’s Thirsty With Wells

Doc Hendley
Bartender Doc Hendley started the charity Wine to with a fundraiser in 2004. Now it has a budget of about $500,000, with programs for well repair and water filtration in countries including Uganda, India, Cambodia, Peru and Haiti. Photographer: Ryan Sutton/Bloomberg

During his college years in Raleigh, North Carolina, Doc Hendley’s big priorities were playing the guitar, bartending and thundering through the city’s streets on his Harley Davidson.

“Everything was just about me and what I was doing that night,” said the blue-eyed, bearded Hendley, 33, with a slight southern drawl during an interview at Bloomberg News global headquarters in New York.

After a close friend nudged him to do something meaningful with his life, Hendley began focusing on the water crisis in Africa, researching news reports to educate himself.

“I learned that the crisis was killing more children in our world than anything else,” said Hendley. “It seemed like not many people were doing much about it.”

He came up with an idea for a charity, Wine to, which he started in Boone, North Carolina, in 2004 with a fundraiser, taking in small gifts from private donors, friends and locals.

Now it has a budget of about $500,000, with programs for well repair and water filtration in countries including Uganda, India, Cambodia, Peru and Haiti.

Next month, Guatemala will join the list when his nonprofit begins installing water-filtration systems at three schools and feeding centers.

‘A Game Changer’

“Latin American countries have so much potential in going from underdeveloped to developed status, but they’re stuck because the world has forgotten to help them with their water situation,” Hendley said. “If we can add clean water, it will be a game changer for these people and help get them over the hump and develop rural areas.”

The nonprofit also inspired his book, published this year, “Wine to Water: A Bartender’s Quest to Bring Clean Water to the World” (Avery). It traces his life stages from son of Christian missionary parents to aimless rebel and finally fixer of wells for the developing world’s thirsty.

On a trip to Sudan’s Darfur region six years ago, Hendley saw shocking images of emaciated bodies, of women and children dying of thirst. He learned that more than 60 percent of the wells in some countries need repair before they can provide water.

He enrolled in a well-repair training program run by the United Nations Children’s Fund. He also determined that only with local participation would his programs have staying power.

“That began the evolution of my nonprofit,” Hendley said. “I want all the projects I do to have local involvement, to have the local people getting their hands dirty and doing the work. That way, it’s more sustainable.”

‘Worth it’

His book recounts when he was ambushed by the Sudanese government’s Janjaweed militia while driving the lead vehicle in a convoy from a UN-protected zone.

“They had men stationed on each side of the road, and I saw these guys hiding with their guns,” he said. “I stepped on the gas, and they all started shooting. One bullet went right past me. It was miraculous that none of us got hit.”

Hendley continues his work in the war-torn area. While he has given up bartending full-time, he will occasionally whip up one of his specialties, a spicy Bloody Mary, for friends.

“I kept asking: ‘Is this work worth it?’” he said. “And I said, ‘Yes.’ To see what happens when you give mothers an opportunity to give their children clean water so that they don’t have to bury any more of their babies from diarrheal disease, is so life-changing to me.”

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