Doc Hendley
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Doc Hendley

We talk with Doc Hendley, who founded the charitable organization Wine to Water that today provides clean water and sanitation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In 2009, he was selected as one of CNN's "Heroes" for his work.

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About the Episode

Doc Hendley was working as a bartender in his native North Carolina when he learned about the lack of clean water in underdeveloped countries. It prompted him to stage a fundraiser that would lead to his founding of the charitable organization Wine to Water that today is providing clean water and sanitation in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 2009, he was selected as one of CNN HEROES for his work. On this edition, he talks about the creation and the work of Wine to Water.

Related:
Wine to Water website

Enrique Cerna:
Doc Hendley, welcome to Conversations. Good to have you here. All the way from North Carolina.

Doc Hendley:
That's right, that's right.

Enrique:
So tell me about yourself before we get into the conversation about Wine to Water. Where you grew up, and what was it that you aspired to be as you were growing up?

Doc:
Well, I grew up in North and South Carolina, kind of a little bit between both. My family originated in Greensboro, South Carolina, up toward the Appalachian Mountains. So I considered them both home to me. But growing up, I was considered a bit of an oddball. My father was a pastor. And I was the kid that always seemed to screw up. I was the, I guess you could maybe even call me the black sheep is a nice way to put it. So I was the kid that kind of always did his own thing and blazed his own trail. And it was tough on my parents. They didn't know how to deal with me. When the other kids that they had, they seemed to follow the rules just fine, and they had this one that would go his own direction. So they handled me phenomenally, though. When I got to high school, they allowed me the freedom that I needed to kind of just be myself. A lot of times, I remember spending a lot of times out, I like to camp, I like being out in nature. And I'd be out in the woods by myself, they'd give me the freedom, Friday, Saturday, take off, just as long as you're home by church Sunday morning, we're happy. And they let me go. And I got to do a lot of thinking and dreaming as a child. Which I'm glad my parents allowed me that freedom. And I didn't really have much direction. I didn't have this concept when I was younger that I wanted to just go out and change the world or whatever. But I will say the one thing I always remembered about my childhood, about growing up, was my father, he tried to instill a lot of principles in myself and my siblings. But the one thing that really stuck with me was this, was a life of service. I didn't really care for a lot of rules and the very like religious side that he was pushing towards, but there was something about like if we would go as a family and help serve at a soup kitchen. When I started seeing what it meant to change someone's life, giving them food, giving them shelter, clothing, whatever, to me, that made sense. You know. And so I think whether it was way back in the back of my head or somewhere hidden for a long time, I always knew from growing up that I'd like for my life to somehow take a turn down that path one day, you know.

Enrique:
And it has, no doubt. You eventually became a bartender.

Doc:
Right.

Enrique:
Tell me about where you bartended.

Doc:
I became a bartender, it was kind of funny, it was out of the blue. I was serving at a restaurant in the little small town of Stamford, North Carolina. I was serving, and the girl where I was working, it was more of a biker-style joint that I was at. And I would hang out with her. And one night, it got really busy. They needed some help, and they said, doc, come back behind the bar, help us out. All these bikers are there, it's like 10-cent wing night. And it's getting slammed. We need help. So I jumped behind that bar. And I started to sling jack and cokes and beers. And I thought, I like this way better than serving. This fits me. And I got to bartend there a little while longer. And then through some circumstance, I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to finish my degree at North Carolina State University. And I paid my way through school by bartending. I got another job, I fibbed a little bit and said I had all this experience as a bartender. And the next place, he said, you are terrible. And I said, yeah, it was a biker bar, and I didn't know how to make a Mojito or a Margarita, it was always like Bourbon and beer. And he said, you got one week to figure it out. So I crammed with all the bartending books for about a week and eventually got to be a pretty decent bartender. And I did that for a few years to pay my way through school until Wine to Water came along. It was December of 2003. And you got to understand, I'm getting a degree at North Carolina State University, which was a phenomenal school. But I didn't even understand the degree that I was getting. I was getting a communications degree. And I said, what does that mean? Am I going to be at a desk and just communicating to people on the phone all day long, what does this mean? So I'm getting a degree in something that I'm still unsure of what it looks like as a job. And I'm loving, loved the bar crowd, the service industry, I planned the music out at different night clubs out around town, absolutely loved that whole industry. But I also knew that that wasn't what I was going to do for the rest of my life. And on top of that, my world at that time had become very small. And I began to really just do things for myself. It was always about where's the after party, after work, or after I got done playing music. My life became all about me at that time. And something didn't sit well with me about that. And I remember going home in December 2003, just to get away from everything for a while. My parents were living in the small town of Boone, North Carolina, up in the Appalachian mountains. And I woke up, and I had this phrase over and over in my head, Wine to Water. And my first thought is, well, wait a minute, that's backwards. My dad told me the story growing up of water to wine. And it was one of my favorite stories because it proved, I felt like this Jesus guy was probably way cooler than a lot of people give him credit for, he made a bunch of wine. So why is it in my head backwards? So I grabbed a pad and a pencil that I keep near my bed because I like to write my music. So I write it down, I thought maybe that's a cool song. I put it down and I stared at the page. And I'm thinking, I think it's more than that. Am I supposed to know something here? And I looked at the first word. I know plenty about wine, I'm a bartender, but water. Like I wonder, is there something I need to know about water? And I immediately went down, I'm just learning to use the Internet and Google at that time, it's 2003, and I had to use it for school and stuff. So I go down and I start typing in water issues, water problems, into Google. And I actually didn't really believe what I was reading at first. The first thing I saw was 1.1 billion people in the world lacked access to clean drinking water. And I was like, that's impossible because there's only 6 or 7 billion people in the world. There's no way that over 1 of those billion people don't have clean drinking water. Come on. I would have at least heard about it if that was the case. And sure enough, everything I saw kept saying the same thing over and over. And then after that, I found out that more children in our world die from unclean drinking water than anything else. And I just kept reading all these facts, I stayed up the entire night just soaking in all this information. And to be honest, I got really angry, I got really upset that night. That if this is such a bad problem, and as it appears to be, then why have, A) I never heard anything about it, and B) why doesn't it seem like anyone is doing anything about this? So I took that pad, took the pen, and I began to fill out the concept for what would now become my organization. And I didn't really have an idea that I would create an international nonprofit. I just wanted to do something to give back and fight this water crisis that I just became, you know, aware of. And so I just jotted down the concept for how to host an event and raise some money and figure out how to start giving back to this crisis.

Enrique:
So when you did that very first event, and you had this idea to try to raise money to bring clean water to these underdeveloped countries, what did people think of that? Your friends, others, whatever, and what happened?

Doc:
Well, my friends, it was strange. I remember the first person I called the next morning, I'm wired, and I've been awake all night long. I called my really close friend Tasha, and I called her, and I'm like, "I've got this crazy idea. I need your help. I want to throw a big party. But it's going to be different. I want to bring a lot of our friends out, I want to have some fun, I think we can get some wine for free, some food, and some music, and let's have a fun event, a party. But let's take all the money we raise and give it away. Because I've just learned about this thing, this water crisis that's going on." And as I explained it to her, she's like, "all right, I'm in, let's do it." She got excited, I got excited. And my friends started, "yeah, that sounds great. And then, wait, you're telling me I can come to this event, have a good time, hang out, but also have an impact on the world at the same time? Sign me up." And then what's crazy is it took me about a month and a half to plan the event. My friends and family from back home caught wind of what I was doing, and they actually came down to Raleigh to support me in the event, which is really encouraging to me because to have my parents and family there, who may or may not have agreed about my life decision to become a bartender and all that, but the fact that I chose to use the resources I had around me to do something good, they wanted to support that. And that really encouraged me and made me want to continue to do more. That first night was a huge success. And just got me excited to stick with it and to do another event, and then another one after that. My first event was February 2004. In August of 2004, I was on a plane to Darfur, Sudan.

Enrique:
How did that come about?

Doc:
After I raised a decent amount of money, done a few events, I opened a P.O. box, people started sending in checks. And I watched this account grow to like tens of thousands of dollars. And then I got scared, I'm like oh my gosh, I didn't really know this was going to actually work. Two, I didn't know it was going to work that quick. And to have access to all this money. How do I get it to the people that need it. So I started thinking, well, you know, I think the best thing is just to take the money that I've raised, find an established organization that's already doing great work, and just give it to them. So I did some more research, find out back in North Carolina. There's a nonprofit, they do great work all around the world. But I was more focused on their water work. They do phenomenal water programs around the globe. And something even more important that caught my eye was that 92% of their funding would go to programs and projects and only 7 or 8% was going to administrative. And that was important to me because I worked really hard to raise that money. So I got a meeting with a guy to go and talk and see how this works, if I want to give them money, where does it go, how does it get there. You know, just get the process. And I'm sitting in this meeting, and I've kind of gone through this whole spiel. My name's Doc Hendley, I'm a bartender, I'm raising money. Can you tell me about your projects? And in the middle of this meeting, everything flipped. And this guy's name is Kenny Isaacs. He said, whoa, whoa, back up, why are you doing this? Why do you care? You're a bartender from Raleigh. And he told me he had been doing this water work for years, and not many people know about the water crisis. So why do you care? And I thought about that question for a while. And I said, you know, Mr. Isaacs, I don't really know why, I don't know what happened, but something happened to me a few months ago, and I became passionate about something. And for the first time in my life, I'm starting to do something more than just live for myself. And so if it's okay, I want to continue doing this all volunteer and raise this money, and just funnel this money to your organization and the work you're doing. And he said, I tell you what, how about you keep your money. How about you come work for me, I'll send you anywhere you want in the field, we'll teach you and train you how to do this work. It already seems like you know how to raise the money. And we'll work with you and help you learn how to do the field side of it. And then you can put the two together and continue creating this organization, this idea that you've become so passionate about. And of course, I said, yes, I was completely floored and blown away. And he asked, where do you want to go? And he said, well, I don't really know much about the developing world, but how about you just send me to the worst place? So after talking, we decided that Darfur sedan at the time, right in the middle of the genocide that was going on there, was definitely the worst spot. And so six months after my first event, I'm on a plane to Darfur.

Enrique:
Tell me about Mustafa.

Doc:
I met Mustafa I guess maybe about six months after being in Darfur on the ground, when I met him, he was 12 years old. He's a child soldier with the rebels who were fighting against the government. The government and this group called the Janjaweed together have become extinguishing the population of local black Africans simply because of their ethnicity. A lot of people think it's a religious battle there and it's not. This is a 95% Muslim area and they were killing these locals simply because of their ethnic background. So these rebel groups formed to fight against the government, the Janjaweed, and a lot of the people, a lot of the men had been killed, so they had to resort a lot of times to child soldiers. And I met Mustafa when he was 12 years old, and I learned his story and found that he had begun fighting against the Janjaweed when he was 9. His family was killed when he was 9 years old and he had nothing else to do, and the rebels embraced him. And so for three years, he had been fighting and probably seen and been a part of more things than even a lot of our U.S. soldiers have been a part of as a child. And that was a heart breaking thing for me to see and to start to build a relationship with this little guy, because I remember when I was his age, my only care in the world was, you know, if I got to go camping or take my Bebe gun out in the woods or whenever. And he's toting an AK 47 and fighting for his family and his people. When I was dealing with these rebels, one, I took a different approach a little bit. They were working, they lived in areas that were considered united nations no go zones that were quite insecure because of the constant fighting between the rebels and the Janjaweed. And I noticed that a lot of the aid organizations, if they even came near these areas, they were in and out really quick. So me and my local team of Darfurees that I had working with me, a lot of times, we'd go and stay in these villages and get to know these guys. And I'd have some time to not see this guy as a hard core rebel commander, you get to know him as a man, as a husband, and as a father. And I remember talking with one of them and sitting down, and just kind of picking his brain and saying, you know, what affects you guys the most? You're always so just like hard core, and you go out every other day and you're fighting and some of you are going to come back and get shot up. You're going to lose your lives. But you're always just like so hard, what's the biggest threat to you and your people? What affects you the most? Just kind of getting to know him. And he told me, yeah, we might lose a soldier or two this week, or in some fighting, but the thing that threatens us the most are things like even Mustafa, because he was so young, was consistently getting sick because of the water supply in the area where they were. Or he's like even my children back home in the village have been constantly getting sick. And I don't think that my daughter's going to make it. And so when I started putting it together and realizing that more of these soldiers, more of the people on the ground were dying because of the water crisis instead of the actual Bullets that were whizzing by their ears every day, it changed it. It changed everything for me. And I actually were to find out that water right now kills more people in the world than all the world's wars and all the guns and all the Bullets combined together right now.

Enrique:
Having access to good water.

Doc:
Yeah.

Enrique:
The fact is, is that so many of these folks that are in, you know, these countries don't have that ability to have clean water.

Doc:
Yeah. It's definitely something that changed. It's one thing to think of people not having access to water because they're just in a rural poor community. But then when you really start to think about the effects and how bad it really is, and how much publicity things like wars get, even other problems, HIV/aids, malaria, and different needs like education and medical supplies. All great needs. But we always forget about water. And it's the most foundational need to life. Yet if we don't address that issue first, before the others, then all the others are going to collapse. You can't get a kid to go to school if he's walking 6 hours every morning to get water. And then when he gets back, he's sick at home in bed with diarrhea because the water's dirty. And so we've got as a society, we've got to start focusing on helping these communities at least access clean drinking water before we start to try to address all the other needs and issues that are out there. I started looking around, and I noticed, one of the first things I noticed is I don't have millions of dollars like a lot of other organizations. But I started noticing around Darfur that 60% of the wells there and in Africa are in nonworking order. So I assembled this team of guys, we got tool kits. And we started going around. They taught me how to do this. My local guys knew how to do it. And we started pulling the guts out of these wells and fixing wells. And I was shocked every time that I would find water at the bottom. And I was like, wait, there's water here, and it's broken, and people are walking 5 hours? So we started fixing these wells. And I started scratching my head after a couple months, and I'm just like, they're just going to break again, if I up and leave in a few months or in a few years, these wells are just going to break down again. So what if we start bringing extra tool kits, and what if we teach and train the locals in each village that has a well how to maintain their own well, and how to be a part of their own water solution the next time the well breaks? So we started doing that just before I left Darfur. And that's when it all clicked in my head. And I said, you know, what's the point of even doing work, of even giving people food or water or medical supplies or training or whatever. What's the point in doing those things if you're not enabling the locals to be a part of their own solution, if we're just going and giving and giving and giving. A lot of times that may be more harmful than good because you're creating a culture of dependency. So in the beginning, I decided in every country, I don't care if we grow to one more country or 10 countries or 100 countries, I want to involve the local people in that work, have them be the ones that are being a part of their own solution, because in the end, that just seems like the only way to make it sustainable, that type of work. So that's how we work now in all the different places. We don't just drill wells, we build water containment systems in Uganda, we have water filtration systems that we use in Cambodia and in Haiti. But the key is that it's local people that are building these things. So in Cambodia, we drill wells and we do water filters. And I got a local team of Cambodians, they have their own name for their organization, they go out in the field. And when they give their own Cambodians this well that's there or a water filter, the people in the community, they see local Cambodians that are coming to their rescue, not always America or the West. And it's empowering to a child to see another Cambodian come and say, you know, maybe I can do that one day, maybe I can drill a well and help my own people, instead of some international group coming to help the needy.

Enrique:
Helping them learn how to help themselves. Makes a big difference. So from Africa to southeast Asia, have you gone into Latin America as well?

Doc:
We have, we have. We've done some great work in Peru. I got a phone call in 2009 from a group that said, you know, we want to drill a well for our orphanage, we're pulling kids out of the trash dump. And it's unbelievable where these kids were living. And the drilling, the only drilling company in the area that would do it for us says that they're going to charge us $25,000, and we can't afford that. But we can't also afford how expensive the water is that the government was going to truck in, we can't afford the government's water. So I flew down there, and we like to do things a little bit under the radar, and found out that in the end, the government had control of this drilling rig and it was a big monopoly and they were making a bunch of money off of people trying to do good work. So we did it a little differently. We brought some guys from right up in the mountains, right in the Andes there, a lot of these rural areas, they have to hand dig wells. And I was like, if we can't use the government's drilling rig to do it, then we'll have some guys dig us a well by hand. So it took two months. Right next to this orphanage, we drilled a well to the water table. And now, they have clean drinking water for this orphanage, and we've given water filters all around Peru. And in Ecuador just recently. Then we expanded obviously after the earthquake into Haiti and other areas as well.

Enrique:
For your efforts, you were named by CNN as a Hero and honored by them. The organization seems to be going strong. The book is called "Wine to Water," a bartender's quest to bring clean water to the world. And I imagine your parents are pretty proud of you now, after wondering, what's this renegade going to actually be in life?

Doc:
They're great, they really are. And I give them a lot of credit for the way that they were able to, you know, just even though it was so hard for them to just kind of let me go and be free, that was one of the things that allowed me just to dream and be myself, and they are. They're very much supportive of my work. And the great thing is that people always know that I'm still the same guy that I was then. I've definitely tried to direct my energy to more healthy things, but I don't have my act together, I'm not perfect, I'm just an average guy. And I think that's what I'm really excited about. The book coming out. Because I hope that everybody else that's out there that feels them self in the same way, I'm not Bill and Melinda Gates' child, I'm not Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, I'm not anybody special. But that doesn't mean that you can't do extraordinary things in this world.

Enrique:
And you have. Doc Hendley, thank you so much for your time.

Doc:
Appreciate you having me.

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02/19/12

Thanks so much for interviewing Doc Hendley. I was switching channels around on the TV and just happened to catch the middle of the interview with Doc Hendley. I definitely want to be a part of this humanitarian outreach he is doing. Thanks for having his Wine To Water project on such a public platform.

Marlene

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