A vacation to Bali changed André Graff’s life—and the lives of thousands of villagers—when it inspired him to build over two dozen wells to increase access to fresh water on Savu Island.
It all started in 2004 when aeronaut and photographer André Graff went on vacation to Savu and Sumba, islands near Bali, Indonesia. Touched by the difficult daily routine of women who had to bring water to their village, he decided to move to the island and build wells in the village of WaruWora.
The poorest inhabitants of the island (population 60,000) often depend on squash, dried fish, and sweet potatoes for their diet. Because of the recent El Nino phenomenon when Graff arrived on the island, the traditional dry season had been aggravated and some were reduced to eating palm syrup. When Graff first began building the wells, the islands faced more problems than access to water: malaria and tuberculosis were endemic, and malnutrition was widespread, leading to elevated infant mortality rates.
In WaruWora, André, originally from the Alsace region of France*, is known by his nickname, “Amenodu,” which denotes him as a wise man. He built the wells using an old construction method invented by the Austrian missionary priest, Franz Lackner, and financed them out of his own pocket. The cost of a well is roughly 7,000,000 Indonesian rupees**; about the same value as a fully grown buffalo.
Water for everyone
Graff built the first well in the village of Ledetadu. Its inhabitants were used to digging wells, but frequent earthquakes constantly threatened to collapse the wells. The technique he brought allowed them to build more solid, more durable ones. The wells are constructed using a series of concrete pipes that are stacked on top of each other as the well is being dug, like an accordion. The width of the wells allows an individual to descend in order to maintain them.
Since 2005, Graff has constructed more than 28 wells in villages on Savu island. Thanks to his efforts, the families that live in these villages have much more immediate access to fresh water today.
Wells of hope
The bridge between tourist and professional is narrow, sometimes nothing more than an outstretched hand. Graff eventually opened a manufacturing cooperative for the concrete pipes used in the construction of the wells, bringing jobs, as well as water, to the island. In addition, he built three water distribution systems. Currently, Graff is building four more that will run on solar power and help bring drinking water into WaruWora.
Through it all, Graff has borne about 75% of the costs of building the wells by himself. He has also raised additional funds through the nonprofit organization, Wells of Hope.