Move Over, Doctors—Plumbers Without Borders Are Coming to the Rescue

Monday, March 2, 2015

For Florida plumber Frederick Schilling Jr, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed at least 45,000 people, was a pivotal moment in his life, transforming how he looks at the world.

His view today? “We in America have absolutely no idea how good we have it and how easy our lives are,” he said.

That same year Schilling, who belongs to the World Plumbing Council, was introduced through its network to Domenico DiGregorio, a Washington-based plumber collaborating with environmental science and civil engineering students from Seattle University. Soon after their meeting, DiGregorio asked him to take a look at the students’ designs for water purification systems and see whether he could install them in Haiti. Schilling instantly agreed. He’d long had the urge to travel abroad, and he knew this was a cause to which he could apply his skills.

But nothing could have prepared him for what he would find there.

“After having watched a woman and a wild pig compete for food scraps in the slums of Port-au-Prince, you are never quite the same,” Schilling said.

Following the trip, Schilling enlisted DiGregorio and Fred Volkers, a fellow plumber, to help him establish Plumbers Without Borders. Dedicated to improving access to clean water and sanitation, the new organization—much like Engineers Without Borders or Doctors Without Borders—would rely on a network of volunteers to make annual trips to developing countries and leverage the abilities and local know-how of plumbers on the ground. More than 750 million people worldwide have no access to clean water, and 840,000 people die each year from water-related diseases, according to

In the nearly five years since, PWB has organized 12 trips to Haiti and Ethiopia. Drawing on funds from individual donors and corporate sponsors, the organization has completed projects such as an upgrade to facilities at Black Lion Hospital in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. As the plumbers worked on the pipes, doctors laid the groundwork for setting up a dialysis center, where DiGregorio later installed the necessary equipment.

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