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Feb 10th
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Wells for Women

news_KenyaAptos resident Therese Hjelm has organized an effort that aims to build wells in Kenyan villages. She is pictured here with local children on a previous trip to Africa.Seeking to change life in a Kenyan village
Therese Hjelm speaks directly and with purpose. Her wide eyes rarely break contact, and her voice is steady and pleasant. With this demeanor, it’s not hard to imagine her easily convincing people to donate to her cause.

That cause is this: she wants to raise enough money to build two wells in the Ewaso Nyiro region of Kenya, so that local girls can spend their time going to school instead of walking six to eight miles each way to the nearest river, where they obtain all of the water their village uses for drinking and for all other purposes.

“The Masai women have an indentation here on their head,” Hjelm says, pointing to the top of her forehead, “because they have a strap that they hook up to the water buckets that they’re carrying. You can imagine walking seven, eight, nine, 10 miles with these on their back. I mean, it’s amazing. The women are so strong. They’re incredible.”


Hjelm, who lives in Aptos, has been involved in charity since she became a candy striper at Stanford Hospital at age 16. She first visited Africa in 1997, when she says she fell in love with the people and the culture. When asked what she appreciates so much about the region, she grows quiet for a minute, then responds:

“Have you ever been someplace and you just feel like you’re at home? I just feel very comfortable there,” she says. “There is a different pace. I love the children. They have nothing, and yet they all have smiles on their faces.”

She has returned to Africa six times since that first trip, most recently in January 2010. But it’s something that happened much closer to home that influenced her to start the well project.

In October 2008, she was at a charity event in the area and met Sabore Ole Oyie, a Masai warrior and advisor to his community who was in the United States to speak at different charity and cultural functions. Hjelm got to talking with Oyie, and he and his companions ended up staying at her home in Aptos. They kept in touch, and she went to speak with him at a school in Palo Alto the next time he was in the area.

After they finished presenting, a student approached Hjelm and said she wanted to help the Masai people. She then handed her 15 crumpled dollars.

“I thought, ‘this girl just told me what I should be doing,’” she says. “And that was my first $15.”

She and Oyie set up a charity through the Blue Planet Network, whose website describes itself as “a group of passionate people, working with a global network of experienced water groups, to bring sustainable safe drinking water to people in rural communities around the world.”

They have since raised more than $19,000. It will take $25,000 to build the first well, and the goal is to build two. The money has mostly come from different events they speak at and from selling Blue Planet coffee table books, but occasionally the kindness of strangers will take Hjelm by surprise, such as what happened when she got to telling a flight attendant from Texas about her work while on her way to Kenya.

“She just got all misty eyed and said, ‘I’m contributing,’” she says. “And so I thought, ‘OK, I was meant to take this trip. Meant to take it.’”

In addition to the well project, Hjelm also sells jewelry and Christmas ornaments made by two different widows’ villages in Kenya. The proceeds go to supporting the widows, who are not allowed to marry again after their husbands die.

Helping Africa is especially important to Hjelm, she says, because “they don’t have the same resources that we do here. They have no Second Harvest or Community Garden or anything like that.”

It’s important “knowing the difference that the well will make in the community,” she adds. “Everybody feels my passion, and people have been very generous, but I’d really like to get to my first well. It would just be awesome.”

She also enjoys networking with other people who are passionate about Africa, and has some advice for others who want to start their own project: “Get out there and meet other people and learn what they went through so that you don’t have to recreate the wheel, because there’s a lot of help out there.”


For more information, or to donate, visit
Photo caption: Aptos resident Therese Hjelm has organized an effort that aims to build wells in Kenyan villages. She is pictured here with local children on a previous trip to Africa.


Comments (21)Add Comment
Volunteer and fundraiser in San Mateo county
written by Nicole L., February 07, 2014
Sabore is an engaging and genuine person. I wish I could have connected with him more, but his partner seems very insecure. Therese seems more interested in having it be about her than Sabore. She is also did not help co found a company- I asked some mutual friends about this and she was just the office administrator who married the CEO. When I have tried to reach out to Sabore thru his email he doesn't answer- I think he lets others control his email. Sad. He probably doesn't know how many of us would like to support him, but we can't get thru her. Seems others have some similar experiences with her- comments below from her seem really angry. I wish the best for Sabore and what he's doing!!
written by T. Wallace, March 27, 2013
Just came across this article about your work in Kenya while doing some research. Keep up the good work. We need more people like you in this world.
written by I.B., January 09, 2012
I don't know why anyone cares if she is fundraising for her boyfriend. Though it's a little strange, maybe she has trouble relating to men in the US and is more happy with someone from Africa - I saw them at an event in Santa Cruz and they seemed like a happy couple - hey, to each his or her own. I do agree with the comment that she should support herself if she isn't, we all have that responsibility to take of ourselves and not lean on an ex or anyone else, but maybe she does work and earn her own money, if she does, then why does anyone care what she does with it?
written by Rosemary, November 06, 2011
“Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either”.

There is the public persona and there is the face and words presented to others. I've seen both. It's the actions that one does when others are not looking that is the true measure of ones heart and soul. I've seen the actions taken when the thought was probably that no one was looking. And they don't feel like the actions of a true humanitarian.
written by Lisa Nash, CEO Blue Planet Network, November 02, 2011
I am CEO of Blue Planet Network, the nonprofit that Therese Hjelm is working with to raise funds to implement Sabore's Well in Kenya. I can confirm that 100% of all donations given that specified Sabore's Well have been reported and allocated to that project. There often is a time lag between when offline donations are received and when they are posted online on our website. But our accountants receive all our donations and manage them to the highest standard of financial practices. You can view Blue Planet Network's previous tax filings and audited financial statements at Guidestar to support this statement.
I offer the highest possible recommendation of Therese Hjelm as a philanthropist, a humanitarian, and as a responsible human being. I do not know where Ms. Rosemary Thompson finds issue with any donations associated with Ms. Hjelm's efforts, but I would be happy to speak with her personally to clear up any questions she has. I have worked with Therese for almost 2 years on the Sabore's Well project. She has donated her time, her money and her passion to bring safe drinking water to those in need. We need more Therese Hjelm's in this world and Blue Planet Network is proud to be associated with her.

written by Margaret Southern, October 25, 2011
Thank you so much Therese for trying to make this world a better place. I am having a hard time understanding why so many want to pick apart, berate or slander Ms. Hjelm for wanting to help others. I am so impressed with her project and the cuase it supports. I was in Kenya this summer and fell in love with Kenya and the people. What a wonderful place and what a wonderful woman who wants to help those in need. Asanta sana Therese! Keep up the GREAT work!!!!!!
written by Therese Hjelm, October 18, 2011
Love, kindness, compassion and tolerance are qualities common to all the great religions, and whether or not we follow any particular religious tradition, the benefits of love and kindness are obvious to anyone... Dalai Lama

I apologize to all of my readers and contributors for some of the comments added to this article. I think one can only surmise that I was recently divorced. It makes me very sad that an individual/individuals felt the compelling need to degrade, demean, disgrace and embarass this project, Sabore and me. This article was meant to tell a story and this project was intended to help a Kenyan community have a better life. I didn't have literary freedom with what was printed and I didn't ask the questions. There was only a small portion of the whole interview that was printed due to space limitations. The journalist chose from our talk what she felt was relevant. Unfortunately, I guess what she chose didn't please some people and they felt the need to personally attack me.

I will not comment on any other posts to this article - this is the last. My final statement is that we will continue with our project. Sabore, his community and I all look forward to seeing the first gush of water spurt out of the well. I thank Josie for the connection to the Good Times and Blair for writing this article. I thank all the people that have supported us to date and those that may support us in the future. This really is all about bringing a fresh water source to a community so women don't have to walk so far for water and young girls can go to school. It is all being funded thru a viable non-profit, Blue Planet Network which you can find out about online. That's it, fresh clean drinking water for a community. Nothing more than that.
written by Rosemary, October 10, 2011
All the information was provided by you, Therese, through facebook. I've also just learned that you've been accusing some very nice people of writing these comments, when they have nothing to do with any of this. She's been in hospital and dealing with surgery since early July. You should be ashamed of yourself for trying to humiliate and slander two people who want to only live their life without your interference. I have the emails from you to them which I would be more than happy to post as well as the facebook messages from you. There as nothing "personal" about this, just an opinion based upon information from you....which I didn't agree with. Your reaction to those who don't agree with you is more telling about you than you realize. People are allowed to disagree, softly, harshly or anything in between as it is simply their opinion.
written by Linda Kenny, September 15, 2011
Wow..there are some pretty strong comments made re this article. I am surprised more care was not taken to confirm facts before inserting foot/feet. I certainly agree that when donating to a cause one should check on validity... it only took a couple of minutes of my time to verify that Blue Planet Network is a legitimate NGO and is used by Ms Hjelm.
Re the cost of wells, instead of ASSUMING or intimating wrong intent and attacking the project, if genuinely interested in knowing the truth, perhaps a question concerning types of wells vs costs could have been ASKED of Ms Hjelm? I'm sure her explanation would have satisfied even her strongest critics.
As to whether or not an ex-husband (or whomever) has helped financially, well frankly why should anyone care? I don't Surely that is their business?
Lastly, I am amazed at the judgments being made here. ALL people who attempt to do good work for others have some of their own personal reasons which, are nobody else's business as long as everything is legit and truthfully represented. The attacks I am reading (especially since reading the responses) have left me thinking this is all very personal!

written by Moore, September 13, 2011
Therese is an AMAZING Woman! She has a very caring and loving heart! It is so sad to me that there are people who are so unhappy with themselves that they feel the need to be so hurtful. Therese is making a difference in our world and we are so BLESSED to have people like her in this world!!!!!!
written by Therese Hjelm, September 13, 2011
Rosemary - please refresh my memory as to when and where we have spoken. I am also curious about your due diligence and where you came up with the fact that not all of my donations have been reported. They may not be stated on the webpage because of a glitch in Blue Planet Network's system but please be advised that every single penny that has been donated to me, whether by credit card, check or cash, has been forwarded to Blue Planet Network for fund Sabore's Well - even including the $8.92 in an envelope I received from the 1st graders at Roy Cloud Elementary School in Redwood City. I have every intention of helping Sabore provide a fresh water source to his community and pocketing the money will obviously not get us there.
With regards to taking a group of women to Kenya, I was approached by some people that said they would like to travel to there with me. All of the arrangements were being made through a travel agent on the east coast that specifically focuses on African adventures and not unless I had a group of 15 would my accomodations be paid for. That is a benefit the travel agency gives with a group of that size. If any reporting was necessary for this "free" trip, I am sure the travel agency would have provided me with such information.
In trying to get Sabore to the states, many charities and friends offered to write letters of invitation. I have never used someone elses letterhead to try and help him obtain his visa. I am not quite sure your intention of mentioning this or of fundraising without "legal non-profit status". Blue Planet Network is a viable credited "registered" non-profit working on water issues, but you should know that since you stated you did donate to one of their projects. BPN is our fiscal sponsors for the project and it's actually better and more advantageous for us to work with them since 100% of our donations go directly to the project thus eliminating the need to spend money on administrative or legal costs associated with starting your own non-profit. So unfortnately for you, I think your so called digging really didn't provide you with the dirt you thought you needed to try and bury my project. In addition your misinformation and slander is not appreciated and has been reported to the editor at the Good Times.
written by Therese Hjelm, September 13, 2011
Mr. Conner - you seem to know me and my situation rather intimately, yet I have no idea who you are. Maybe we need to have a conversation in person so that you can meet me and hear the real truth. I am very happy to provide credit to everyone that has helped Sabore and I with the fundraising for Sabore's Well - while every single name cannot be mentioned on the webpage due to space limitations, I have credited the people that have held fundraisers for us and individuals that have generously donated. Please note that none of the donations have come from anyone affliated with my ex. He obviously provided you with misinformation!
You have also misstated the facts about my trips to Kenya and staying in "luxury accomodations" while on safari and volunteering. I'm not quite sure your intent with your comments or why you are trying to berate me about the work I am doing but best you get your facts straight as I do not appreciate your slander and have reported this to the paper.
written by Therese Hjelm, September 13, 2011
E.B. - thank you for your interest in Sabore's well and wanting to understand why this well is more expensive than other ones. The wells that were completed for $13,000 were for shallow wells in the Samburu District of Kenya. Samburu is not in the same region as the Ewaso Nyiro, Narok community where Sabore's well will be built. Wells in Sabore's region need to be 150 to 200 meters deep in order to reach water. The deeper the well, the more expensive. Aside from drilling, there are additional costs - hydrological survey, pump, generator, water permits, drilling permits, etc. We know of several other wells built in Sabore's region and the costs have ranged from $19,000 to $45,000 for a single well. We would like for our well to be less which would allow us to use the excess towards additional projects. The exact cost will be determined once the hydrological survey has been completed. We have asked for a proposal from the same surveyor who worked with the Samburu Project and who's had great success in finding water.
written by E.B, September 07, 2011
Please explain why these three wells were completed at a cost of $13,000 each in the same region? Why are the wells Ms. Hjelm is talking about so much more costly?

Projects of: "Lkisin Wells"
Applicant The Samburu Project
Application ID: 309

Status: Approved AcceptedReview Cycle end date: 2011-08-28

NameStatusStart DateCompletion DateDate of Last ReportAmount Assigned

Lolparuai Well
In-progress 2011-07-19 2011-09-30 Tue Jul 19 00:00:00 -0700 2011 $13,000
Nairisha Well
In-progress 2011-07-22 2011-09-30 Fri Jul 22 23:32:00 -0700 2011 $13,000
Nolkapur Well
In-progress 2011-07-22 2011-09-30 Fri Jul 22 00:00:00 -0700 2011 $13,000
Application Summary
Applicant: The Samburu Project

Status: Approved Accepted

Country: KENYA (map)

Amount Funded: $39,000
Funded By:-
: $39,000
Funds Used: $39,000
Funds Available: $0
Projects Summary of Application
Number of Projects:3
Overall Start Date:2011-07-19
Overall Completion Date:2011-09-30
Date of Last Update:Fri Jul 22 23:32:00 -0700 2011
© 2006-11 Peer Water Exchange
written by Anthony Connor, August 18, 2011
Enough of the "I" - isn't this a community project, driven by Sabore? "I'de really like to get to MY first well"......shouldn't that be "We would like to get to OUR first well"?????? The challenge that 'want- to- be' philanthropists make who are not using their own money is the sense it's all about them. There is little sacrifice in spending moeny you've not earned, staying in luxury accomodations while on safari and spending a week or two volunteering isn't philanthropy, it's a vacation. I know I take 2-3 a year doing just that - anywhere from Costa Rica to Mexico to the South Pacific. Ms. Hjelm - earn your own way first and stop indulging yourself in self righteous rhetoric. When you can make this about "we" instead of "I", just maybe you will earn a modicom of respect from those who are not so easily fooled.
written by Rosemary M. Thompson, August 18, 2011
In researching other non profits working on wells in Kenya, their costs per well seem to run significantly less. There are whole teams involved as well as buy in from the community, geo specialist etc......nowhere do I see what her plan is. Who is contracted to do the work? This is a project I donated to and shed light on wells.
written by Rosemary M. Thompson, August 18, 2011
I too have talked with Therese Hjelm Baer and what I noticed first was her love of Africa. However after considering a donation to the fund, I did some due diligence. I understand that she has not reported all the donations, is taking a group of women to Africa and charging them for her travel costs without the benefit of a travel agent license nor reporting this type of income to the IRS, and possibly used a friends letterhead to try and obtain a US visa for her "friend" Sabore, possibly creating the reason for entrance into the country. These things gave me pause, as fundraising without legal non profit status is a recipe for trouble. I would encourage her to seek legal advice. Earmarking checks for a "cause" do not do anything other than make the individual writing the check feel good. Until this is remedied, I will be seeking other registered non-profits as sources for my 2011 donations. Dig a little and do your due diligence before writing anyone a check.
written by Elizabeth R. Nidzwicki, August 15, 2011
I have to agree with Anthony - the women I applaud the most are those who support themselves and volunteer either locally or globally. Women or men for that matter that allow others to support them are examples of the poor work ethic that so many American embody - I cannot admire someone who does not do this on their own. Why doesn't Therese work? Living off another's success does not make one successful. If you wish to be an example to the women and girls of Africa, be an example and provide for yourself, work and do that what you love in your free time. Now that's something to admire. As a mentor to girls myself, I encourage them to not view men as a bank account, to be their own woman, support themselves and always look to be self reliant. If a woman can be self reliant, she can do anything.
written by Anthony Connor, August 11, 2011
I think what Ms. Hjelm is doing is interesting and worthy. However, she neglects to mention that it is her ex-huband that funds all these trips. It's not so difficult to be "philanthropic with someone else's money. I would be more impressed if she provided those who are behind her ability to do this fundraising with the credit that is do them. It is her ex that provided her with the contacts and support, and I imagine continues to support her. I would be more impressed with Ms. Hjelm if she supported herself, worked and also made time for those things she deems important. If you didn't earn it, you can't really claim it as yours. What I admire in men and women are those whom are self reliant, and still manage to volunteer for the causes that are important to them.
written by Steven A. Grant, August 04, 2011
Therese is a quietly passionate person whose enthusiasm is inspiring and touches a "primal desire" in those she meets to truly "leave the world a little better" than how she found it! Thank You for inspiring
written by Lisa Nash, July 25, 2011
This shows how individuals can make a real difference. This is a great project powered by great people!

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