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Neverthirst By John Fleming

Photos by Daniel Phillips

Mark Whitehead hovers in a rare spot of shade beside a dirt airstrip near this Sudanese market town surveying the now familiar landscape around him. Twisted underbrush below a think green canopy of trees, a red dirt road stretching into the distance, children everywhere playing beneath a withering sun. It is hot, it is dry and the dust is everywhere. It is also the wet season, a time of the year when the streams still run, when the rivers do not dwindle to mudchoked soggy paths, when children only have to walk a mile or so to fetch water. As he glances up from a notebook, he looks across a clearing, past a cluster of visitors and dignitaries waiting to catch a bush plane to Uganda, to three young girls walking single file, with plastic containers full of water balanced on their heads. They are heavy, the blue bucket, the green one and the large yellow jerry can carried by the bigger girl in the middle. Yet they manage a smile as they pass the assembled at the airstrip, smiles that no doubt belie the long difficult daily trip they have to travel to the source of this water. And making that journey easier for these girls and others not only in southern Sudan but also in other parts of the world is why Whitehead has come from his Birmingham Alabama home to this place. “Everything starts there,” Mark Whitehead says when he’s talking about water. Without it, he explained, there is poor hygiene, which leads to poor health, which leads to lots of deaths. He knows what he’s talking about. It’s been his life for the past couple of years as a founder of Birmingham-based Neverthirst, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing clean water to

22 Longleaf Style Summer 2010

Village children awaiting their turn at the new well.

desperately poor places in the world such as this. “Clean water changes everything,” he said. “It prevents a lot of waterborne disease, frees up a lot of time that women and children spend walking anywhere from five to six miles to fetch dirty water.” In the last two years, Whitehead, Forrest Walden, and Spencer Sutton, the other founders of Neverthirst, have catapulted a

general idea of helping others into the very specific focus of bringing clean drinking water to remote villages. Since April 2008, when the first Neverthirst well was drilled in the village of Witto, some 30 miles from here, the group has succeeded in putting down 11 wells in Sudan and 21 in India. In a span of two weeks in early 2010, Neverthirst received a commitment to fund 100

Longlead Summer 2010  
Longlead Summer 2010  

The Summer 2010 issue of Longleaf