Pump it Up


Dwight Leeper ’71 is helping bring drinking water to Senegal

The breezy Maine town of Rockport is a world away from the sun-scorched hills of sub-Saharan Senegal, but it was there, on a friend’s porch back in 2019, that Dwight Leeper ’71 first heard of a new type of hand pump that might be able to bring badly needed drinking water to Africa. Rather than rely on pistons and suction, explained Leeper’s host, Sam Lowry, an engineer who specializes in pump design, the appropriately named LifePump employs a screw to push water up from the bottom of a well, allowing it to tap supplies three times deeper than conventional pumps.

That gave Leeper, a retired Merrill Lynch financial advisor from nearby Camden and a longtime Rotary Club member, an idea. “I said, ’Why don’t we go get a global grant from the Rotary Foundation to do this?’” he recalls. “And so, we wound up in West Africa.”

Today, four years and three trips to Senegal later, that porch discussion has resulted in the installation of three LifePumps in the country’s Kédougou Region, providing safe and reliable water to villagers who previously had to haul their daily supply from open watering holes several kilometers away. By simple turns of a crank, which even a child can do, the pumps produce hundreds of gallons a day (a figure the team can track thanks to each pump’s satellite feed), while being far more durable than those with piston designs.

Leeper and Lowry, funded with $130,000 from the Rotary Foundation and matching donations, are now exploring locations for two other pumps, with the hope that local officials and contractors—having learned from the Rotary team—will be able to install pumps on their own. The two men are also developing a proposal for bringing water to a higher elevation village where drilling was unsuccessful.

“I was so touched by the people up in the hills, the Bidek people, that I said, ’Sam, we’ve got to figure a way to get water up there,’” says Leeper, who has also traveled to Pakistan, Nepal, and Haiti for public health and humanitarian projects. “So that’s what our next step is. The government wants to do a feasibility study. Then we’ll take it from there.”

Learn more about Dwight Leeper’s project on the group’s Facebook page, LifePumps Deep Water Pumps for Senegal.