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Pure Intentions

A tiny nonprofit brings clean water to thousands living in poverty

As is often the case in India, traffic was moving slowly. While his car stood still, Jim Mynaugh noticed some boys bathing on the side of the road.

“They had shorts on and were laughing as they passed a bar of soap back and forth,” says Mynaugh, who was there on business in 2011. “I saw a pipe sticking out of a rock above their heads. There was one kid standing out of the water, watching them. Suddenly he yelled something and they all scattered. I rolled the window down and that’s when the smell hit me.

“These guys were bathing in sewage.”

Mynaugh, who lived in Pennsylvania at the time, was shocked. He’d been teaching a class to raise awareness of global crises like child trafficking, world hunger and the lack of access to clean water, a basic staple that we take for granted but that about 2 billion people lack.

Witnessing it firsthand propelled Mynaugh into action.

Jim Mynaugh with villagers in Zambia.

Courtesy Jim Mynaugh

“At some point in your life, you’ve got to stop talking about stuff and start doing things,” says the retired chemical engineer. “I know we can’t fix it all, but we can fix a little bit, right?”

Once he got home, Mynaugh founded Divine Water and applied for 501(c)(3) status. He wasn’t exactly sure where that would lead or how his nonprofit would effect change, but he started raising money and looking for opportunities to partner with organizations that were already implementing clean-water initiatives across the globe.

Mynaugh, 65, continued that work when he moved to Lipan in Hood County in 2013, becoming a member of Tri-County Electric Cooperative. Over the next several years, Divine Water mainly operated as a fundraising enterprise, sponsoring wells through humanitarian nonprofits like Healing Hands International, Kibo Group and Water Underground. They underwrote projects in five countries: Costa Rica, Haiti, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

Typically, one hand-pumped well will provide clean water for 800–1,200 people. Sometimes this means very long lines at the well head each morning, Mynaugh says.

In 2020, Mynaugh’s church, South Main Church of Christ in Weatherford, established a school in Zambia. When students dispersed after graduation, they reported that some villages had no access to clean water.

Women in Mozambique return home with water from their new well.

Courtesy Jim Mynaugh

A child fetches water in Uganda.

Courtesy Jim Mynaugh

That’s when Divine Water started funding and implementing its own projects in a sixth country: Zambia, a landlocked nation in southern Africa where more than half the population lives in poverty.

Mynaugh has compiled a list of more than 20 Zambian villages that need wells. But even though Divine Water is now funding and implementing its own projects—providing clean water access to 10,000 people in 2023—it continues to partner with other organizations doing similar work.

“Most of our revenue comes from individual donors, people who know us and believe in what we do,” Mynaugh says. “Sometimes it’s neighbors, sometimes it’s family, sometimes it’s church members or friends.”

Fundraising also contributes to Divine Water’s clean-water wells. Regardless of the source, all donations have provided benefits that go far beyond what Mynaugh initially imagined. A 2019 visit to a Ugandan village with a newly drilled well made that very clear to him.

A pump like this one in Uganda can usually supply water for 800–1,200 people.

Courtesy Jim Mynaugh

“Through an interpreter, the village chairman was thanking us for the well,” Mynaugh says. “And then he said, ‘Because of the water, our women and children are no longer being raped and molested.’

“I told him we hadn’t done anything to prevent that. And that’s when he explained that before we dug the well, the women and children had been walking nearly 2 miles to get water.”

Commutes in poverty-stricken areas can be extremely dangerous for vulnerable people.

“What’s going to break your heart if that doesn’t do it?” Mynaugh asks. “I’m not doing anything that you couldn’t do. I’m not that special. I’m just a regular guy who decided to see if I could make a small difference.”