In December of 2023, The Sonder Project drilled a deep-water well in rural Burkina Faso to honor the legacy of one of the country’s most prominent spiritual leaders, Malidoma Somé, in his home village of Gbeilgane in the community of Dano. This was a unique project due to its location, the technology it required, and the special collaboration with the West Coast Village, a group of Malidoma’s followers in the West Coast of the United States that brought the project to life.


Veronica Zulu, center with sweater, listens in one of her classes.

Malidoma Somé, who passed away in December 2021, was born into the Dagara tribe in Southeastern Burkina Faso in 1956. The Dagara are known for deep cultural practices, but Somé was sent to school at a Jesuit missionary boarding school and only reconnected with his roots afterwards. He wrote a well-renowned book about his childhood, his education, and his culture called “Of Water and the Spirit”. Malidoma went on to earn his doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris, and emerged as a beacon of cultural preservation, his life marked by a profound intertwining of traditional African wisdom and Western education. Somé’s fame both within and outside Burkina Faso stems from his dedicated efforts to bridge cultural divides and promote healing and understanding. Instrumental to our water project in Malidoma’s home village, was a long-time friend and student of Malidoma, Coby Leibman We recently sat down with Coby to discuss the significance of this project, and what comes next.  


Veronica Zulu sits on her hostel bed she sleeps on while at school.

Photo of Coby Leibman.

The idea for the water project came about when Coby visited Malidoma’s tomb in Burkina Faso and spent time with his family after his passing. He observed a dire water situation in Dano village, with people traveling long distances to collect water from unclean sources, causing infections and malnutrition in children. In the dry seasons, it was even harder to get water. Coby learned that Malidoma had tried to bring clean water to the area by drilling wells but due to the difficulty of the geology and corruption by local engineers, the project never succeeded.


Veronica with her hand raised, ready to ask one of her teacher's questions.

One of the open water sources where people living in Gbeilgane collected water prior to the completion of the Sonder well.

After traveling back to California, Coby met Chad, CEO of The Sonder Project, through a mutual friend and learned about our work drilling clean water wells in Burkina Faso and Malawi. Coby explained the situation in Dano, and Chad was intrigued.  While Dano was not in the area where The Sonder Project usually works, Chad spoke with Martin, our Burkina Faso Country Director, and made a plan to visit Dano to assess the situation.  Martin met with community members, toured the area, assessed the population, and visited current water sources.  From his visit, it was determined that improved access to clean water would make a significant difference in the lives of the local Dagara population. “It was magic in how it came about,” Coby said.  “It was so easy.  I could feel Malidoma pulling the strings from wherever he was.”    

The next step was fundraising.  Coby was confident Malidoma’s followers would step up to honor his legacy and support the project.  It only took about 6 months for Coby to mobilize the West Coast Village and other groups of Malidoma’s followers to raise the $11,000 required to drill a deep-water borehole capable of providing a rural community with clean water for generations. Now it was The Sonder Project’s role to make it happen.  


Veronica Zulu sits with a group of friends along with two of The Sonder Project staff members in Malawi during a break period.

Members of the Community Leadership Team in Gbeilgane for the The Sonder Project well. The Sonder Project works with communities to select a local leadership team to oversee and maintain all Sonder initiatives.

Martin traveled back to Dano with a drill team and organized a mass meeting to affirm that the community was committed to the project.  We ended up collecting 430 signatures while we only require 150 to move forward.  Malidoma’s community was eager for the project.  

It was time to start drilling!

Unfortunately, finding water around Dano proved to be no easy task!  One of the reasons for Malidoma’s inability to complete the earlier well projects was the difficulty in finding a suitable aquifer in the ground.  After several drilling attempts, it would have been easy for any engineering company to give up and claim that drilling a well was not possible.  But thanks to the commitment and oversight of Martin and the Burkina Faso staff, the drilling teams persevered and eventually struck water in Dano.  The resulting well was 85 meters deep, making it the deepest well of the 36 wells The Sonder Project has drilled in Burkina Faso.  As a result, we used a more expensive Volanta wheel pump, as opposed to a more traditional hand pump, because the wheel is more conducive for deeper wells. 

Veronica Zulu sits with a group of friends along with two of The Sonder Project staff members in Malawi during a break period.

The Sonder Project’s Burkina Faso Country Director, Martin Nansia (left) with Malidoma’s brother, Didier, during the drilling.

And so, two days before the  2-year anniversary of Malidoma’s passing, his home village celebrated gaining access to a convenient and consistent source of clean water for the first time ever.  The inauguration of the new well was both a celebration of a new beginning for the community, and an honoring of Malidoma’s legacy.  There was an incredible outpouring of joy, with everyone dancing, singing, and enjoying the nourishment of this cherished resource.  Several members of Malidoma’s family, including his brother Didier, were also in attendance. 


Veronica Zulu sits with a group of friends along with two of The Sonder Project staff members in Malawi during a break period.

Community members in Gbeilgane gather to celebrate the inauguration of the new well.

 Coby explained to us that the essence of Malidoma’s teachings was in spiritually repairing our fractional selves with collective healing, through group rituals. Malidoma was a charismatic master of creatively bringing people together across cultural, racial, age-based, and class divides. The new well in Dano is a true testament to that ability, his posthumous legacy linking individuals from West Africa to the West Coast USA to lift a community up, together. What would Malidoma think of this collaboration? Coby believes he would say, “You’re continuing the work that I started in my lifetime, putting together the pieces that I built, so that the village could continue. It’s your turn now to carry it on.”


Veronica Zulu sits with a group of friends along with two of The Sonder Project staff members in Malawi during a break period.

One of the children in Gbeilgane gives the thumbs-up after tasting the water from the well.

And there is still more work to be done. The village of Gbeilgane covers an area approximately 6 square miles wide just outside the town of Dano, and there is still a need for two additional wells in the northern half of the village. Due to the distance, the challenge of finding water, and the need for Volanta pumps, the next two wells require raising $14,000 for each well. We encourage everyone to continue to support Coby and his team’s ‘Dagara Empowerment Water Project’ fundraising page, and/or share with your community to help spread the word to continue to grow the impact of Malidoma Somé’s timeless legacy and teachings. At the time of posting, we are already 46% of the way to the next wells!    


Veronica Zulu sits with a group of friends along with two of The Sonder Project staff members in Malawi during a break period.
Veronica Zulu sits with a group of friends along with two of The Sonder Project staff members in Malawi during a break period.

We will be honoring Coby Leibman and the West Coast Village and celebrating the new well in Dano at our upcoming concert fundraiser, ‘Water Is Her Right!’ : Featuring FULAMUSE, in Sebastopol, CA, on March 29.  Check out the event and grab your tickets if you are in the Bay Area!


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