One thousand children die each day from a waterborne disease. LPGA Hall of Famer Betsy King has devoted the last decade of her life to help stop what’s still a little-known crisis in the developing world through her Golf Fore Africa charity. On World Water Day, March 22, King announced her commitment to raise $10 million over the next five years to bring clean water to 200,000 people throughout Zambia. She has personally pledged $1.3 million to help accomplish the goal.
“In her lifetime,” said King, “the average African woman will walk the distance equal from the earth to the moon walking for water.”
Water containers typically weigh 45 pounds and are carried on a woman’s head or back. It’s not only a health issue, King said, it’s a matter of time. Walking for water keeps young girls from going to school or learning a trade.
And then there’s the issue of safety. King told the story of a woman whose young daughter was raped walking from her village to a remote water source. The 15-year-old girl became pregnant and was infected with HIV. She died seven years after giving birth to a son named Gift. King met Gift, now 18, and his grandmother on one of her many trips to Zambia.
“That grandmother has become a big advocate for clean water,” said King, who said their village now has a well put in by World Vision.
King, 61, founded Golf Fore Africa 10 years ago and has raised more than $5 million. Stacy Lewis, Juli Inkster, Cheyenne Woods and Renee Powell are among those who have traveled to Africa on humanitarian trips with King and donated both their time and money.
A couple of major golf outings – one took place last week on the Monday before the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix – help fund King’s projects. She also travels around the country speaking to women’s clubs and leagues about her passion for Africa.
The Cape Cod Women’s Golf League, for example, is raising $15,000 to fund a well. The cost includes drilling, water testing, construction of the well as well as sanitation and hygiene training for the community.
“Before they’ll even come in and dig the well, every household has to have a pit latrine, washing station, a bathing station, a dish rack to get the dishes off the ground,” said King. “They have to dig a rubbish pit and form a water committee to learn how to care for the well.”
Because the villages are so involved in the preparation and the dedication of the wells, World Vision has found that after 20 years, more than 80 percent of their wells are still in operation.
King partnered with World Vision because of the organization’s large-scale commitment to clean water. They’re bringing clean water to a new person every 30 seconds. By 2020, World Vision aims to cut that to 10 seconds.
There are around 663 million people in the world who lack access to clean drinking water. For King to reach her goal, she’s going to need more than LPGA players to back her.
“My dream is to get the whole golf community involved,” she said.
Lewis and her mother, Carol, joined King on a trip to Rwanda in 2010, where Lewis met the child she sponsors. The former No. 1 was so moved by what she saw that for several years she served on Golf Fore Africa’s board.
“I saw things there I never thought I’d ever see in my life,” said Lewis not long after she returned. “It was such a shock to me that people live the way that they do, but they are so happy and so grateful. It just makes me thankful for everything that I have, and it gave me a renewed purpose of what I’m doing out here.”
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, included a target to ensure that everyone has access to safe water by 2030. King has committed to personally donating $100,000 annually toward that goal until it is accomplished.
King won 34 times on the LPGA, including six major championships. She was a three-time Player of the Year, a five-time Solheim Cup player and a winning U.S. captain.
But she’s on the road now more than ever, working toward Diamond status on Delta. King said she never even made it to Gold while playing on the LPGA.
“Sometimes I go OK Betsy, you can just be taking your time, resting at home, playing a little golf,” she said.
“But you know what? Then your life doesn’t have purpose. I really feel like God brought this in my life to give me purpose.”