Tag Archives: WHOlives

Open letter regarding the “Village Drill” business

(This is an extremely long text, laying out the case for these organizations to stop providing publicity and endorsement for an American organization which has been a source of extensive problems for my Kenyan friends and I. It will not be a source of intellectual stimulation for many, but if any of you can help put pressure on these larger organizations to stop providing favorable publicity for the company which has conned us out of far more money than we could afford to lose, your help will be appreciated.)

Brigham Young University, community relations department
TED Talks
American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Greetings to the leaders of the respected organizations listed above. I would like to thank your people for publishing information which has enabled me to better piece together the story of exactly how the con which took me for over a year’s wages last year actually works. This involves an organization known as “WHOlives” which succeeded in convincing me to invest in their product known as “The Village Drill,” which your organizations have inadvertently helped to promote, and which has turned out to be completely unsuitable for operation in the area of western Kenya for which the unit was purchased.

I have no doubt that your organizations believed that WHOlives (hereafter WL) was an upstanding and morally praise-worthy organization when you decided to tacitly endorsed them, but on the basis of the evidence of dishonest marketing and misrepresentation of their charitable intent to be presented here, I hope that you might exercise due diligence in investigating the case against them and then annotating your publications (linked above) accordingly.

My intent here is merely to make you aware of “cognitively challenged” statements made by WL’s representatives on your respective web sites, and to compare those with this company’s other marketing materials, so that you are able to see what sort of product they are producing and what in turn it is being marketed as. Of course my own bitter experience colors the tone of my narrative somewhat, but even if you discount my perspective on that basis, if you still believe in such a phenomenon as objective truth, and you are willing to look for the truth of this matter through a critical analysis of the sources referenced here, I believe that you will find that you are somewhat morally obligated to stop promoting these WL deceptions.

Where to start…

Perhaps the most rational starting point would be to describe what, in essence, the Village Drill (hereafter VD) actually is. It is basically a reverse-engineered variation on the sort of rotary jetting, or rotary mudding, borehole drills that have been used in industrialized countries since internal combustion engines have been powering drills for water wells. (See this source from 1978 for details regarding the evolution of this technology.)

Old rotary jet

Asian manufactured variations on this technology, powered by a 10-15 hp. either diesel or electric motor, sell for between $2000 and $5000 brand new, with full technical support and a 1 year warranty included in the price.

The VD variation on this technology began as a BYU engineering class project, attempting to use these same basic operating principles, only replacing the small motor with human power. To accomplish this they effectively built a rather heavy “input wheel,” which would serve as a horizontal flywheel with a series of handles around its circumference for workers to grab onto and spin it in order to turn the drill assembly. This required reducing the length of the hollow drill rods used by the machine to roughly half the length found in equivalent fully motorized machines, but other than that the parts from the VD are largely interchangeable with those of any other standard rotary jetting borehole drill (as detailed on p. 5 of the ASME report).

NGO professionals in the field of drinking water supply whom I have spoken with, who are familiar with the VD, give it credit as far as saying that in its current iteration it is capable of drilling deeper than any other human-powered well drill on the market at present, but this needs to be qualified in three significant ways:

First of all, the VD is not capable of operation without a motorized pump and a water supply to be used for flushing the borehole while drilling. If the goal were to produce a machine capable of operating under conditions where fossil fuels are not available, the VD fails on the drawing board. This leaves us with the questions of what counts as fully “human powered,” in this context, and what advantages are we looking for in using human power to begin with. Eliminating this small motor does not in fact make the VD essentially any more transportable to remote off-road locations; any donkey cart capable of carrying a VD with its pump and input wheel assemblies could also carry the sort of diesel powered machine that the VD is modeled after to the same location.

Second, because the power source (humans) driving the circular motion of the drill rods and bit in the VD has less than a third of the power of the simple internal combustion motors used in its exemplars, the motorized pump used in the “jetting” or “mudding” aspect of the operation needs to run for much longer periods of time on each job, making the overall difference in fuel consumed and environmental impact rather negligible. Furthermore, because of this power difference, any  rock formations which a motorized rotary jetting drill cannot penetrate will be, a fortiori, far more impenetrable for a VD.

And third, the VD is currently being sold for between 3 and 10 times the cost of a comparable machine with an electric or diesel power source. Nor does this price include any equipment warranty or on-going technical support for VD buyers. Then adding to the cost of operating this machine, but not stated in advance promotional literature, is its continuous need for bearing replacement. The primary moving part engineered specifically for the VD is the “input wheel” with its handles for workers to spin it by. The engineering success of this innovation, however, is called into question by the fact that its bearings must be replaced after every job; after every attempt to drill a borehole.

VD basic

So given these technical limitations and pricing policy issues, who would the potential customers be for such a device? For what would seem to be obvious reasons, WL has been extremely guarded about releasing such information, but some fairly reliable conclusions can be drawn based on the combined information available.

The primary market for VDs, according to the ASME report, has been NGOs, particularly those which provide volunteers with tactile experiences of helping people in developing countries, in many cases reinforcing a “white savior complex” for them. It must be said that , no other borehole drilling machine on the market today enables western volunteers, literally working side-by-side with native laborers, to use their own muscle strength to help provide local people with access to a water table 100-200 feet down. The feeling for these volunteers of getting some dirt under their fingernails and building up a bit of a sweat while “doing good” for the community and with the community by helping turn a drill is something that operating a more reliable and cost-efficient motorized drilling rig just cannot do for them. Thus for some NGOs the VD is the ideal tool to put a small group of (paying) volunteers to work on.

Learning to operate such a system can also be a very valuable experience for junior students of engineering, providing them with practical experience relating to cumulative pressure, hydraulic forces, accounting for geological structures and other aspects of the work they are trying to eventually qualify for. Educational organizations which specialize in “hands on learning” might find that the simple operational structure of the VD could make it an ideal teaching tool in these regards. In other words a VD could have the same sort of value as the old bicycles I taught myself how to take apart and reassemble during my middle school years, or the old mechanical alarm clock that I took apart and reassembled while I was in high school: while there may be other cheaper equipment out there which can still do the same job more reliably, having a machine that is simple enough so that someone disassemble it and discover the basic functions of all of its moving parts can have a value unto itself. In fact there is some evidence that WL is starting to break into that market as part of their NGO market segment.

The third market segment worth mentioning is what the WL spokespersons referred to in their ASME report as “wealthy individuals in the developed world who donated [VDs] for use in developing communities.” This clause is extremely misleading in a number of senses. First of all it assumes that there is some standard form of community organization in place within African nations that could function as a recipient for such a donation. Second, it implies that a VD donated in such a manner would be available to various community members to come and use when they happen to need it.  Most disturbingly, however, it implies that none of those who have invested in VDs for the use of third parties in Africa ever expected to see any return on their investment, and that they (we) could easily afford to lose the amount of money in question. I can emphatically state from personal experience that none of these assumptions or implications holds true!

In this context it is worth pointing out that in his BYU TEDx presentation Christopher Mattson, the primary engineering instructor involved in the VD project, refers to John Renouard having brought in, not “wealthy donors,” but “venture capitalists” (12:10 into the presentation), who, according to his narrative, came to watch their early experimental digs in Africa. Suspending disbelief for the moment on that one, if we take a moment to compare these two narratives, where would these “venture capitalists” have gone by the time of the ASME report?

In short, all of the local business attempts financed by these venture capitalists (which is what venture capitalists do, as a basic matter of definition) in turn failed, after which the VD machines which these investors bought either sat idle or were sold, by way of WL, at a major loss for the investor. The second-hand drill customers were apparently either the type of NGO referred to above, or perhaps WL themselves, accounting for the collection of 4 VDs currently in their stable. (This part, I must admit, is partially speculative, as WL are not particularly forthcoming with information regarding their business history in such matters.) Thus these “venture capitalists” have since then been involuntarily re-categorized as “wealthy donors.”  This enables WL to paper over the fact that the model they are marketing of enabling local entrepreneurs has a 0% success rate, in spite of well-meaning western investors repeatedly losing their (our) money in trying to help in this way.

These business failures for VD operators are in fact something of an economic inevitability. It is easiest to see why this is by looking at some of the material I received from John Renouard, the primary operator of this con, while I was still on the fence as to whether or not to invest. During this period Renouard sent me a document  refer to as a “Memorandum of Understanding,” or MOU, which I take to be a Mormon idiom for a form of legally non-binding business contract. Renouard told me that this form of quasi-contract is something they had “used before,” though I never found out where. The figures given in the MOU presuppose that in normal operation a VD should be capable of putting in drinking water wells at a rate of approximately one per week, and that a 30 wells per year should be the minimum acceptable productivity rate. It further states that if the operator is so lazy as to put in less than 20 wells per year the “lender” is entitled to repossess the VD. Each well –– paid for by land owners, local government agencies, residential water cooperatives or western donors –– is projected to cost the customer approximately $4000 (USD). Of that money, from the profit earned on each job, the VD operator would pay back $200 to the “lender” who by rights still owns the rig. At that rate the VD should pay for itself within two years! Except that in practice this has never happened and never will, regarding which Renouard had no plausible excuse of ignorance when he sent me this “sample” document.

As of the time of the ASME report, WL was operating 4 of their own VDs. With the all of the technical, financial, expert advisory and logistical support that the parent company could pull together to support its own operations, these 4 machines still drilled a combined total of just 5 holes in the ground during the month when the sample data for that study in question were collected; and of those 5 holes 3 actually successfully tapped into ground water. They then claimed that such results should be typical for all VDs currently operation. Assuming that this reflects a typical productivity and success rate for VDs, which the study methodology seems to assume, a normal operator with one VD might optimistically be expected to put in 15 boreholes per year, of which perhaps 10 will actually provide water. This means that the VDs operated corporately by WL themselves are functioning at less than a third of the productivity rate projected by WL as necessary for running a profitable business!

This, however, is just the start of the challenges involved. This part still concerns only the process of “putting holes in the earth,” which,  as Mattson admits 11 minutes into his TEDx talk,  is a very small part of the “grand challenge” of providing access to clean water; his pie chart would indicate that the drilling amounts to 20-23% of the total process to be considered in meeting this grand challenge. When the other necessary factors are accounted for, and when they are deducted from the profit margin that the VD operator can expect to earn from a $4000 job, the potential for an entrepreneur to lose money in this sort of business grows exponentially.

This is particularly true in places where financing is secure enough to create a market for a drinking water well-drilling businesses. These markets have already been penetrated by businesses using more powerful, dependable, efficient and inexpensive machines than the VD, making job pricing highly competitive. This then increases the risk of unprofessional “fly-by-night” operators, in turn creating an atmosphere of limited trust within this industry in general. Customers are skeptical about actually getting what they pay for from any new operators in this field. Under these circumstances every failed attempt to put a suitable hole in the ground using the VD, due to the technical limitations of the device itself, further decreases the possibility of its operator being able to generate the level of business needed to even start paying for the machine.

This brings us to the matter of what sort of geological conditions the VD is suitable for operating in. The ASME report makes no reference to this factor. It does, however, go so far as saying that the VD was designed to improve on systems which are not “well-suited for medium to hard rocks formations.” News flash: the VD itself is anything but suitable for cutting through medium to hard rock formations!

Setting aside VD promotional material for the moment, one needs to keep in mind the basic facts of the matter: that the VD is essentially a less powerful and less dependable version of a basic light weight rotary jetting borehole drill. When it comes to professional recommendations for what type of drilling machine is suitable for what types of geological conditions, no professionals recommend lightweight rotary jetting drills for going through medium to hard rock formations. Some low budget operators do it anyway; slapping special “coring bits” onto their drill rods and pushing their 15 hp. motors to their limit for days at a time. But trying to do the same with a VD is the equivalent of trying to compete in a motorcycle race with a bicycle. Nowhere within WL’s marketing and promotional materials is this basic limitation recognized. On the contrary, it is consistently denied.

My own unfortunate experience with this system began when an old acquaintance of mine, Joel Freeman, began doing marketing work for WL in 2012. I knew Freeman when he was a young pastor of an independent evangelical church on the US East Coast back in the 1970s. He went on from there to do career-defining work as a chaplain in the NBA, and to use those connections to become a “serial entrepreneur” within the “self-help” and “motivational speaking” fields. Due to his sporting connections, not coincidentally, Freeman’s work has focused strongly to “successful people of color” in particular. So it seemed to fit in well with his personal marketing focus area to involve himself in nominally helping Africans –– something he could easily sell to his primary clients as a means of feeling better about themselves.

My own career, meanwhile, has been as a teacher in Finland’s international public schools, particularly in the Nokia Corporation’s home town of Espoo. Some years back I began reconsidering my level of motivation in this field, and as part of that, for the 2011-2012 school year, I took advantage of the possibility to take a sabbatical year off, which I spent in Cape Town, South Africa. When I returned to Finland after that adventure I resumed my teaching on a part-time basis, and began my doctoral studies in the University of Helsinki on the side. This put me in a very tight position financially, but I could live very simply and the chance to participate in top level stimulating intellectual discussions meant more to me than material comfort anyway. And though travelling there was now largely outside of my budget, I remained deeply interested in the African continent.

A year into this part-time teaching / part-time grad student life I met a half-Finnish / half-Kenyan family which was starting to try to start a new NGO to raise money for AIDS orphans in their father’s old home town near Kisumu (the focal point for Kenya’s current political unrest). I became still more interested in their project when I learned that the aid they collected was being distributed by way of an independent church in that village, and that there was a certain missionary dimension to their work. At the same time, however, I knew better than throwing my own money, and trying to encourage others to throw their money, into the operations of anonymous independent church. So to cut to the chase, in the summer of 2014 I made my first visit to western Kenya, to see for myself how this system operated and what I might be able to do to help them.

Drinking water was one of the significant issues we talked about. Freeman’s promotion of the VD system was in the back of my mind during this entire visit, and having paid some of the local boys about $0.50 an hour to taxi me around town on their bicycles while I was there, I saw how there was plenty of cheap labor and a need for employment. If the VD could live up to the billing Freeman gave it, and if the financing of customer payments could be arranged, this seemed like an ideal fit. Thus over the next year I began contacting WL to learn more about their system and to investigate the possibilities of helping my new friends in Kenya to get ahold of a VD and set up a new drinking water providing business. During my next two visits to Kenya in 2015 I spoke with construction workers, business people, local government officials, church folk of all sorts, and even some legal advisors there, about this potential project. Many people got quite enthusiastic about the idea, and I began carefully considering who I might be able to trust there as partners in such a venture. My main concern, however, remained the issue of financing for local customers.  After discussing this matter with Renouard he acknowledged risks and advised caution, in this regard, but he also tried to show how those obstacles could be overcome, sending me the MOU mentioned above as part of this sales pitch. He certainly made no mention of their 0% business success rate, or of the limits their drill faced in dealing with the sort of rock formations that would be encountered on the north side of the Rift Valley, which this VD was being considered for.

My personal economic situation was indeed very hand-to-mouth, but I had access to funds that my father, a far more economically successful man than myself, had set up as a series of trust funds for the care of my family. Did I dare to borrow from these funds for a project in Africa, even if I did expect to get the money back?

I was wavering on this issue until a major crisis struck: During one of my trips to Kenya I started to experience acute asthma-like symptoms, making it hard to breath and causing me to feel rather faint at times. After returning to Finland doctors here still couldn’t tell why I was so out of breath and dizzy all the time… until over a month later they discovered that the aortic valve in my heart was frozen in place. At that point I was immediately rushed to the university hospital for emergency life-or-death heart surgery.

It was during my time in the hospital following that surgery, wondering just how much of a recovery I would make (which was uncertain at times), that I decided I would take a risk of the VD investment. It wasn’t the result of any stereotypical “deal with God,” but rather a decision that after this brush with my own mortality it made sense to me to make helping others a greater priority for however much turned out to be left of my life. Sadly this existential crisis, quite clearly in retrospect, seriously clouded my judgement regarding Renouard’s and Freeman’s trustworthiness.

Upon my return home from the hospital I started working on financial arrangements to move some of the funds which were at my discretion in the US to Utah for a down-payment on a VD. From WL’s receipt of the down-payment for the VD until the unit was ready for shipping took just under 2 months. The actual delivery took another month after that to arrange, on account of my borrowers in Kenya having bought a rather defective vehicle for that purpose. In any case, it was another few weeks after that, in February of 2016, when WL’s trainer arrived in Kisumu to help set things up, and when the real troubles began.

The machine had not been packed into a sealed crate for shipping, as section 2.7 of the ASME report claims that it should have been, and consequently some of its basic parts went missing in transit. Right away there was a dispute over who should be responsible to pay for replacement of these parts. From there the trainer took them through the process of drilling a borehole, but for lack of funds to finish the job it was left as a hole in the ground with a plastic sheeting cover over it. The technical support from WHOlives ended there. The next attempted job, for which this new company was expecting to be paid, ended in technical failure: the crew hit a very hard layer of rock a few dozen meters down before encountering any useable amount of water, and it soon became apparent that this layer of hard subterranean rock  extended all the way across the customer’s property.

Operating on the north side of Kenya’s Rift Valley, these sort of rock formations turned out to be far more the rule than the exception, and the VD simply was not the right sort of machine for breaking through them. Over the next year the team I had finance the VD for drilled a total of 9 holes, 3 of which were successful in finding a useable amount of water.

Most of these jobs were paid for and enabled by a different businessman from Utah, who remained interested in personally helping with Africa’s water situation after having had his own reasons for parting of ways with Renouard. Overall this American sponsor, the Kenyan operator and myself all lost more than we could properly afford in this venture, with little hope of my ever getting even a penny’s worth of return on my investment.

My attempts to discuss the failings of this product with Freeman and Renouard have become increasingly confrontational.  In Renouard’s case this didn’t surprise me at all; in Freeman’s case, slightly more so, though in retrospect it probably shouldn’t have. Both still, in a remarkable feat of imagination based on alternative facts, claim that the VD has the potential to be a “game changer” and any problem with the VD must be the fault of the operator, not the machine itself. Confronted with the fact that believing his sales pitch has cost me more than a year’s wages, Freeman has made extended efforts to justify his belief in WL, without saying so much as “oops” in terms of acknowledging his own culpability in this matter.

Mattson also deserves credit for imagination at least. It takes an incredible amount of imagination to put forward an operationally inferior version of older existing technology, with a 0% success rate at its intended application, as the primary success story of his career as an engineering instructor! This makes me seriously wonder how bad the other “successes” of his career must have been for the VD to jump to the front of the queue as it has.

The primary question that I would put to him is, what happened to the other 76% of the area in his pie chart, labelled “other disciplines” needed to provide water in Africa? Given a 28% well failure rate among their successful boreholes within their first 5 years, a 20% out-of-service rate for these very expensive machines, and an overall productivity rate of less than one working water source per month per operational drill, it would seem that these other disciplines are being rather seriously neglected. Or does that not matter after some sucker like me has been bought and paid for a VD?

But I must say overall that the final 6 minutes of his TEDx presentation, focusing on the VD case, was rather disturbingly dependent on “alternative truths,” ranging from praising Renouard’s “inspired leadership” to claiming that the local manufacturers of VDs in Kenya had produced 8 new drills within “a few months” in 2012; whereas table 3 of the ASME report shows that in no 4 month period over the past 5 years have more than 7 VDs been produced, and over the course of no 2-year period has there been an average production rate of more than one drill per month.

Some of WL’s claims should still need to be directly debunked here:

  • On the video regarding the VD on the BYU website, after claiming a very original design evolution process for their system, at 1:20 Renouard says, “There’s just nothing like it in the world.”
    However section 2.3 of the ASME article repeatedly emphasizes how most of the operational features of the VD were “strategically chosen from existing well-drilling technology.” There are plenty of things like it, and there have been for generations, just using two internal combustion motors instead of one.
  • In talking about drilling their first successful hole in Tanzania, at approximately 2:15 Renouard claims that the VD “far surpasses any manual drill, and in a lot of respects even the huge motorized drills. […] This drill works everywhere.”
    Let me point out again that both of these claims are simply false. There are many types of geological conditions that the VD simply is not suited for. It is like any other rotary jetting drill of the sort that it borrows most of its technology from, only more than twice as expensive and weaker in terms of penetrating capacity.
  • At 2:30: “Here we are 5-6 years into development and we’re in 23 different countries, they have drilled over 1100 boreholes…”
    The video editor appears to have cut him off here before he could make any further disprovable statements, but on that we may never know. Suffice to say the restraints of the peer review process in the ASME less than a year earlier had moderated their claims down to 15 countries and 761 boreholes (VD ASME stats). It seems far more likely that the video’s claim is optimistically exaggerated than that they expanded their operations by 50% within one year. Let the reader judge.
  • At 3:53: “There might be a million people out there that are drinking clean water today because of the work of these engineers at BYU 6 years ago.”
    Hold on. That stretches the colloquial limits of “might” a bit beyond the breaking point; as in, somewhere in the world their might be flying cows.
    The only way to get into 7-digit figures is to talk about “person-months of water,” calculated in terms of the number of people within “walking distance” of a VD-drilled well from the time it went into operation to present day, or until its pump broke down. The way Renouard tosses around 7-digit estimates here clearly demonstrates that emotional impact is more important than factuality in this project.
  • Moving to WL’s own web site, it’s hard to distinguish between intentional deception and just a weak grasp of written English, but let’s try.
    The starting heading of “Creating Economic Independence for Individuals and Communities” is directly in conflict with their batting average of zero at successful entrepreneurship enablement. So far the VD has yet to make a single individual, (other than possibly Renouard himself) economically independent. On the contrary, it has put many of us into very deep economic trouble!
  • It is hard to say anything more about the heading “The Big Lie” than, hmmm, how ironic.
  • “There is only one proven way to reduce and eliminate scarce and contaminated water…”
    Why would anyone want to reduce or eliminate scarce water? Just because water is scarce doesn’t mean you want to eliminate it! Even contaminated water has its uses, as in using rather disease contaminated water for irrigating rice fields in western Kenya.
    Perhaps they are thinking of trying to deal with problems of water scarcity and contamination, but they are hiding their unsustainable claims behind bad grammar.
  • “…a drill strong enough to penetrate nearly all substrates… The Village Drill does just that.”
    Once again, wrong. The word “nearly” is not nearly sufficient as a fig leaf for this blatant lie.
  • “The big lie that most NGO’s fell victim to is the notion that we could solve the scarce and contaminated water crisis by simply having big trucks drill more wells.”
    Besides the vagueness of “most NGO’s” here (the percentage of NGOs in the world which are trying to provide clean water to people exclusively by using large well-drilling trucks is far below 50), there is the false assumption that those who have been in the business of providing people in developing countries with access to clean water for generations already still don’t know what they’re doing!
    In short, again, while certain types of NGOs – due to the structure of their volunteer programs – can seriously benefit from having a VD or two on hand; those which are seriously interested in providing adequate amounts of potable water for the greatest possible number of clients, expending the smallest amount of resources possible in the process, will try to flexibly match the solution to the situation. There is no one size fits all solution, especially the VD!
    Once again the ASME report (2.1) provides an element of contrasting honesty here: “The Village Drill was created to compete in between the well drilling rig and hand auguring/sludging space.” Translating that idea into practical wisdom, if there is a job where very inexpensive traditional hand-drilling systems won’t work anymore, but where a 10 ton rig is not yet necessary, a lightweight rotary jetting rig – something like a VD, only cheaper – might be the proper solution. Most NGOs in specialized in this field have actually been aware of these types of choices and alternatives since before the Peace Corps was founded.
  • “The Leading Piece of Technology in the Fight against Poverty. […] By creating access to clean water to literally millions of people we enable prosperity to take hold.”
    OK, leaving grammar issues aside for now, this combines two previous prevarications in a way that leaves me uncertain what the intent of the section is. First of all that “might be a million” has here been expanded to “literally millions,” demonstrating that whoever wrote this knows the meaning of neither “literally” nor “millions.” Sad.
    Then there’s the implication that communities automatically become richer when they have a VD, running counter to the fact that there is “literally” no community in the world which has a measurably higher income today because of access to one of these rigs. The one true sentence in this paragraph, “Water makes every other humanitarian project better,” is not enough to save it.
  • “The Village Drill creates significant social and economic impact; empowering individuals and communities by providing a cost effective method of accessing clean water reserves.”
    A more honest claim here would be to say that the VD is particularly useful to certain types of NGOs, selling access to a white savior complex as their primary function, and providing water to those who are there for the photo op as a side product. Again I stress the fact that the VD has yet to empower its first African entrepreneur or cooperative water society. For those who wish to make a business of providing water in Africa, there are far more cost-effective ways for them to do so.
  • “Perhaps the Village Drills [sic] greatest feature is its ability to be owned, managed and maintained by local entrepreneurs.”
    The only thing which keeps this from being a bold faced lie is the strategic fig leaf of “perhaps”. Again, some of us have been foolish enough to try, but no one has ever established a successful business using a VD, and it is quite close to an economic inevitability that no one ever will.

Trying to identify all of the factual discrepancies and blatant deceptions in WL’s promotional videos and literature is a more extensive task than fact-checking the speeches of any politician you care to mention. Suffice to say, all of the claims I have made above condemning WL are readily confirmable in WL’s own materials. If, beyond that, anyone here would like to have a copy of to the promotional and/or instructional material which they sent to me as customer, I will be happy to share.

Given this bulk of evidence, I can think of no reason why an organization interested in maintaining its own credibility would continue to promote WL products and services, other than willful ignorance grounded in deep and painful cognitive dissonance. Thus, while I respect the sincere intentions of all 3 of the organizations this letter is addressed to, I would be quite disappointed if any of you would not, with due diligence, investigate WL’s dishonest product claims and business practices, and thereafter make a public statement distancing yourselves from this shameful operation.

For the ASME in particular, however, I would ask that you not remove the article in question; merely annotate it to the effect that the credibility of this organization has come under serious question and thus readers should beware of the likely deceptive intent entailed in some of the authors’ claims.

If any of the others who have been involuntarily re-categorized from “venture capitalists” to “wealthy donors” by Renouard & company happen to read this, and would wish to contact me regarding the possibility of joint legal action, please do so.

If anyone reading this is interested in participating in charitable ventures in Africa that genuinely do save lives, without the funds being siphoned off for corporate overhead or false technological claims, feel free to contact me in that regard and I can direct you to small organizations that have earned my personal trust in their approach to such work. And I swear by all that is holy that I will make no attempt to financially benefit from or support myself through any of your charitable donations for Africa.

Whatever your situation, please spread the word that contributing to the Village Drill project is not a credible means of “doing good” in Africa, or presumably anywhere else in the world. The sooner this system is closed down, the better it will be for the credibility of start-up charitable ventures in general.

Sincerely, David Huisjen, Jr.




Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy

Crisis Update for Summer of 2017

It is going on two years ago that I posted here about my emergency heart surgery and my brush with my own mortality in the late summer of 2015. Since then I’ve physically recovered better than would have been expected in most ways, but in all honesty I’m still struggling to find the new, post-operation “normal” in my life. Over the past year in particular I’ve been facing various forms of existential crises that in some ways have been more difficult for me than the heart surgery recovery itself. This was crystalized for me in the realization this spring that in 2016 I was actually conned out of more money than I was able to earn during the course of the year!

I’m not talking about paying more for little treats for myself than what I should have paid; I’m talking about being tricked into paying for something essentially useless, that quite literally cost me significantly more than my year’s salary. This has led to some significant stress handling difficulties for me, and it has forced me to re-evaluate the direction of what’s left of my life. For those who have been tracking on my life and ideas here –– friends, family, regular readers and those who are otherwise in the habit of praying for me –– as I did following the surgery a couple years ago, I feel I should explain this in a bit more detail.

For 18 years now –– basically the last third of my life –– my primary employer has been the City of Espoo’s municipal board of education. I got into the business of being a school teacher two years before that, teaching philosophy at an adult high school, and based on recommendations by friends and colleagues who were impressed with my work, Espoo’s Etelä Tapiolan lukio (South Tapiola High School) hired me to teach the  same subject area.


My primary subjects to start with there were philosophy and religious education, and in addition to those I was asked to teach psychology as well. Working with the basic background I had in the subject from my studies in theology, and with a bit of help from my friends, I managed to teach myself enough of that subject to bluff my way through teaching it to teenagers fairly well also. In my second year at Etelä Tapiola they started offering a modified international version of the British secondary school diploma system, as designed by Cambridge University, known as the AICE Programme. Within that system I began teaching sociology as an “AS-level” examination subject. That soon became one of the school’s most popular courses, and I found it very interesting and rewarding to teach it. The following year I was asked to start teaching the required “value subjects” –– religious education and ethics –– at the middle school level, in the English-speaking classes at Pohjois Tapiolan yläaste (North Tapiola Middle School): the primary “feeder school” for the English-speaking line at Etelä Tapiola at the time. This line at “Pohjis” eventually evolved into what is now Espoo International School. I had some reservations about that part of the work to start with –– the idea of trying to get 13-16-year-olds to take religious education seriously, which many of them clearly saw as the academic subject they were required to take which had the least relevance to life as they know it, did not sound like a particularly rewarding career path –– but I ended up making myself quite at home in that aspect of my career as well.

This career opened up for me, I have to admit, not just because I was good at it, but because really no one else wanted it. I can count on the fingers of one hand, without using my thumb, the total number of native English-speaking people in the world who are qualified to teach religious education in Finland, and there are actually many good reasons for that. In fact the biggest challenge I faced over the course of my first seven years teaching in Espoo was my epic struggle to become officially qualified to do the work that I was doing! That is obviously a very long and very painful story that I won’t go into just now. In any case, to start with I was brought in to teach in a program that was being phased out, without any clear indication of what sort of program would follow for those studying in English to get university entrance qualifications through in Espoo’s public school system. Over the course of my career these systems have frequently been in flux, but somehow I’ve managed to keep going with them for a remarkably long time by Espoo standards.

My passion for this work, across all of the subjects that I have taught, has been for getting teenagers engaged in discussions about the very meaning of life: what counts as truth; what counts as “normal”;  what sorts of goals are worth working towards; why should we bother with various sorts of expectations we are faced with; what kinds of things all people should theoretically be entitled to, just because they are people; and how we can constructively relate to those who come from entirely different religious, cultural and ideological backgrounds. Especially while I was struggling for official qualification in the field I wasn’t making much money at this, but I received strong feedback that I was making a difference for some of these kids, and helping all of them to think more carefully about what they were doing with their lives. And then when my sons, who went to an entirely different school in the next city, started to get a bit of extra recognition within their extended peer networks for having a father who was recognized as a rather cool teacher, that made up for a lot of the grief I had to deal with along the way.

But as my sons became adults another major shift happened in my career: Etelä Tapiolan lukio switched over from its improvised combination Finnish-British system to being part of the de facto mainstream in English-speaking international secondary education: it became an International Baccalaureate school. This was helpful for the school in many ways, but one of the side effects was that the subjects that I was most passionate about teaching no longer fit into the school’s curriculum. I could no longer teach philosophy, psychology, sociology or higher level religious education: I was asked to take up the IB “Theory of Knowledge” class, and to do middle school student guidance counselling to fill the gap in my hours and keep me on staff, but these weren’t where my heart was at. Finally, for the 2011-12 school year, I decided to take a sabbatical break, which I spent in Cape Town, South Africa, not really sure if I would be coming back to Espoo from there or not.

I didn’t find any way to permanently settle in there in Cape Town though, and I didn’t find any other alternative employment right away, so in the fall of 2012 I did return to Espoo International school, now as only a part-time teacher of middle school religious education and ethics. The salary for this actually turned out to be less than my sabbatical pay had been, but I had no childcare, alimony or mortgage payments to make any more, so I decided I would just tighten my belt and live with it. To keep myself out of trouble I applied to start working on my PhD at the University of Helsinki and I was accepted directly into that program for the next spring semester. Things looked pretty tolerable at that point.

I won’t go into any details about how things at the middle school have deteriorated for me since then, or how my extended sick leave for emergency heart surgery figured into the big picture. Suffice to say, my salary has progressively decreased, the workplace stress has progressively increased, and the feeling of making a positive difference in those young lives has largely faded away for me. Gradually I came to realize that my long-term unemployed friends here actually, quite literally, have a higher economic standard of living than I do. And then, as frosting on the cake for this stage of burn-out, came the realization that a loan I had arranged, to help some working men in western Kenya start a business providing safe drinking water for people in their region –– for a sum significantly more than what my 2016 salary turned out to be –– was money that I would never see again!

The bulk of that money had gone into buying what was supposed to be a top-of-the-line borehole drilling machine, which in spite of all the hype associated with it, turned out to be an essentially useless piece of equipment in the area where it was intended to be put to use. I have since come to the conclusion that those selling these machines are among the lowest level of con artists.

VD basic

I will follow up in a later blog with more details of the con I fell for here, giving more specific warnings to keep others from falling for the same. For now I will simply tell you that machine I was conned into helping my Kenyan friends buy is called The Village Drill (abbreviated hereafter as VD), designed and marketed by a group of Mormon engineers from Utah operating under the generically religious sounding corporate name of WHOlives. I was referred to these people by a former clergyman, who now self-identifies as a “serial entrepreneur” and a “motivational speaker.” That in itself should have set off all sorts of warning lights for me, but I mistakenly believed that I could trust the integrity of this individual I knew from 2/3 of my life ago regardless of his “career shifts.” That has turned out to be the most expensive mistake of my life thus far. When a man who has been through multiple divorces tells you that something else has been his most expensive mistake in life, that should tell you something!

The VD –– in the words of one established expert in the field I have since been talking to –– is essentially “a beefed up version of manual rotary jetting with a little more capacity to drill through clay and soft/weathered rock”. The third column of the chart below indicates what such a machine is best suited for:

In short, there is nothing particularly revolutionary about this machine. It is not at all suited for the sort of geographical conditions found in the area north of the west end of Kenya’s Rift Valley, it is priced at roughly ten times what a diesel or electric powered drill of comparable size and weight goes for, with lower penetrating capabilities than such motorized machines (from which it borrows its basic drilling technology), it has significant maintenance problems, and for all that it comes with no warranty and with seriously deficient customer support.

Consequently the only customers that WHOlives has had for the VD thus far –– according to a report they managed to slip into a peer-reviewed engineering journal last year –– have been “either non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or wealthy individuals in the developed world who donated them for use in developing communities.” In other words they have been trying to go after people with deep enough pockets where they can afford to lose money; and if the poor people of Africa end up not getting as much as promised in the process, “at least they tried.” Of course this report leaves out mention of at least one Kenyan start-up, funded with a loan arranged by a rather gullible school teacher from Finland, but in that regard I will be in touch with the journal in question to suggest corrections and retractions later.

So now what do I do? I’m trying to try to avoid getting too cynical about this mess. My Kenyan connections made their own significant mistakes in this process, but they tried very hard to get this massively overpriced sub-optimal piece of Mormon engineering to work and I really can’t want to blame them for failing at it. I was the one to blame for the biggest mistake in the process: suggesting the damned VD system to begin with! But be that as it may, as things now stand I need to dig myself out of this hole before I can do anything else in Kenya regarding which local people there can say “hakuna matata” when I lose more money. In other words I won’t be able to travel to Kenya this year to further work with pastoral training programs and I won’t be able to make any personal donations to keeping the school lunch program that I helped initiate there running. This grieves me significantly, but there are times that I have to accept that –– largely because of mistakes I have made in terms of misjudging who I can trust –– certain things are just beyond my control.

And part of the problem that losing more than a year’s pay draws my attention to is that I cannot continue on with a career that has such a low level of pay to draw from. Things have come dangerously close to the old adage, “I pretend to work and they pretend to pay me,” being literally true. As one of my cleverer students pointed out in her final exam essay this spring, the primary difference between an employee and a slave is that the employee has the functional possibility of quitting an unsuitable job. I now need to see if I do indeed qualify as an employee in this regard, and if it turns out that I am thought of as a slave, I need to try to find a way to escape!

Under the circumstances I am quite willing to do any honest form of work for which an employer would be ready to take on a man of my age, with my particular set of linguistic and academic abilities, in the sort of health I am in, even if they don’t pay an entirely livable wage for such work. I am not proud or squeamish at this point. But one thing I am not willing to do is continue teaching middle school lessons 2-3 hours per day, every day of the week, to the exclusion of any other occupation, for less than a subsistence wage. And at this point there is no reason for me to expect that the middle school’s administration values my work enough to make the adjustments necessary to keep me working there voluntarily. This is now a matter of mutual understanding between myself and the principal there. So effectively that means that, while I am officially on vacation at the moment, in practice I am unemployed already. I honestly have no idea where my next salary is coming from, and when.

The principal of Etelä Tapiolan lukio, has been kind enough to nominally keep me on staff there to co-teach a class one hour a week, just to keep my foot in the door, so to speak, so I can stay in my employee housing for the time being, but I am very seriously looking whatever work I can find at this point. At the same time of course I am trying to double down on finishing my doctoral studies, however much easier said than done that may be under the circumstances.

Overall though I have to admit, I’m perhaps now more than ever in the position of Kris Kristofferson’s most famous lyric: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Though I am a US citizen by birth, I am also a naturalized citizen of a civilized country that actually believes in human rights –– that provides basic health care to all citizens and won’t let me freeze or starve to death, or die for lack of the basic prescription medicines I’m now on, because of my lack of capacity to pay. Beyond that I really don’t own anything that creditors would find it worthwhile to repossess. So in effect I’m confident at least that things really can’t get any worse for me. All I really stand to lose is time –– time during which, under other circumstances, I might have been able to do more good in the world rather than struggling with the uncertainties of my basic subsistence.

Even so, at least for now, life goes on. It remains to be seen where this freedom will lead me, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. For those of you in the habit of praying, please remember to mention me as you do so.



Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Freedom, Purpose, Time