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Drilling Wells, Saving Lives

A Maryland businessman is helping to bring clean water to thousands of villagers in Ghana

Ken Wood has owned racehorses for more than 40 years. But now that his standardbreds are winning big, the 66-year-old businessman has decided not to keep any of the prize money.

Instead, he is putting those profits toward his new passion — drilling wells in the West African nation of Ghana.

"Once I discovered how difficult it is for people in so many parts of the world to get clean drinking water, I decided there was no better investment I could make," says Wood, who owns Lifetime Well Drilling, in Denton, Md.

Wood made that discovery on a trip to Ghana in 2006. A group of people from Aldersgate United Methodist Church, in York, Pa., purchased a drilling rig from Wood's company. After the transaction was complete, the church members asked Wood if he'd be willing to go along to help them build a much-needed freshwater well.

He was initially reluctant. But a few weeks later, Wood was at a conference in South Carolina where, coincidentally, the keynote speaker was from Ghana. The man told the group how he had to walk two miles to a dirty pond twice a day just to get water so he could take his medication.

 "I knew I met that man for a reason," Wood said. "And so I said, 'OK, Lord, I'm on your team.' "

When he returned home, he set up Lifetime Wells for Ghana, an organization that drills wells for villages that do not have clean water access. He and his team have returned to Ghana 18 times, drilled nearly 500 wells and improved the quality of countless lives.

Wood says each trip costs between $50,000 and $70,000, in addition to supplies for the wells, which can run as much as $8,000 each. Horse racing pays the majority of the costs. Not long after  returning from Ghana, five of the horses made more than $150,000 each — and they've been doing well ever since.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that my horses are winning more since we've started this work," Wood says.

Well drilling in Ghana has become a family affair for Wood's family. His son, Ben, runs the family business, freeing Wood to travel overseas.

"My dad takes things to the extreme when he cares about something," says Ben Wood, 42. "If someone doesn't have enough money for a well he'll help them out, even when we've needed the money. But, he can't bear to see someone go without."

His 18-year-old granddaughter, Shelby, has gone to Ghana with him and says she's inspired to continue his work.

"It's been great to witness all of this and being a part of it," she says. "I love it. I want to come back for years and years to continue what my grandfather began."

His work has clearly earned the appreciation of the Ghanaian people. In one village, he was honored in an elaborate tribal ceremony and officially given the title, Chief Living Water.

Ultimately, Wood hopes to drill wells in other parts of the continent. His plan is to work with residents there to teach them how to build and maintain wells on their own.

In the meantime, he says he's happy to continue traveling to Africa as often as he can.

"It humbles you every time you go," Wood says. "When you come back you don't complain as much. I think if everyone saw what people in other parts of the world have to deal with to meet a basic need for clean water, we would all be a little happier for what we have."

Latisha R. Gray is a freelance Web producer and writer based in Washington, D.C.