In 2003, the self-proclaimed “black sheep” of an accomplished family was “loving life” while working as bartender when a friend challenged him to better fulfill his potential. The part-time musician thought his calling was to pen a country song titled “Wine to Water.” That hit song never came to fruition, but it got Hendley thinking about the parable in which Jesus turned water into wine. So, he began researching water. What he discovered was that (at that time) 1.1 billion people lacked access to clean drinking water.
Moved by this and other findings, in 2004 Hendley began holding food/drink charity events to raise money for the fight against the global water crisis. After thorough research, Hendley settled on a North Carolina charity he was confident would get the funds to the right people. The leader of this charity saw something in Hendley beyond his ability to raise funds; he coaxed him into working for the charity. As Hendley recalled, “He said, ‘I think you are really on to something with this wine to water idea, but you really need to see what it is like in the field.’”
Six months after his first charity fundraiser, in August 2004, Hendley was on the ground in the dangerous Darfur region of Sudan. After a lot of trial and error digging wells, Hendley began engaging with local rebels who were fighting the corrupt government. What he learned was that there were already existing wells installed by past international humanitarian aid workers, but they were no longer functioning. So, Hendley began researching and learning how to fix broken down wells. In the process, he learned that approximately 60 percent of humanitarian-dug wells in sub-Saharan Africa were not functioning (essentially, they would get dug and begin operating, but then the humanitarian efforts end there with little to no follow up). This was another “ah ha” moment for Hendley, who began concentrating his relief efforts less on digging new wells and more on restoring existing wells.
And Hendley took this one step further by teaching locals how to use the tools and technology to fix the wells themselves, akin to the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Hendley said, “I wanted to empower the community to take care of their own problems.”
Hendley continues his work to this day. According to his website, today Wine to Water has dug, repaired and sanitized drinking wells for 25,000 people in five Third World countries.