How a Marine Corps Combat Veteran and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer joined forces to give something good back to the world.

Cesar Murillo was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer finishing his MBA at the College of William and Mary. He met Lance Zaal, a Marine Corps Combat Veteran, at an entrepreneurship event on campus.

Here is how they decided to change the world.

For Cesar, it began in the Ambohitrambo community of Madagascar, an island-country in the Indian Ocean, near the coast of Southeast Africa. While standing in line waiting for water jugs to fill up, Cesar Murillo, then a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Madagascar, experienced first-hand the reality of the global water scarcity problem affecting nearly 700 million people worldwide..

Making water
Drinkable for

It happened every morning like this. At about sunrise, all the women and children of the community would grab whatever they could - buckets, pails, jugs - and get in line for water. You see, from July to November there was a harsh drought, and in these rural villages of Madagascar there is nothing like “city water”. If a community was lucky, they might have access to an old, unreliable well. So this is what they did. While the men were off working, the women and children would get in line for water. This is the only water they would have for that day. All 300 of them. For drinking. For washing. For anything.

Sometimes the water ran dry. If you weren’t in the front of the line, that meant you weren’t getting water that day.

More often than that, the water was contaminated. Water-borne illnesses infected the community daily. Unless you had medicine, you could expect to get sick about every week. Sometimes this meant diarrhea. Sometimes it meant worse. When children became sick, it was common for their parents to take out loans for medicine. If they were approved for the loan, it was only a quick fix. The children would get sick again. There was no guarantee the parents would have the debt paid by then, and this could break a family economically.

Peace Corps Volunteers are issued medicine by the Peace Corps to protect them from these harsh conditions. But the risk of allergy and liability to the locals prevents Peace Corps volunteers from sharing their medicine without medical supervision.

It was bad enough seeing his friend Jean Claude, a local chicken farmer, get sick so often. But when Cesar saw the women and children of Mahajoarivo, walking down a steep hill, every morning, to fill their water jugs - not at a well - but at a contaminated watering hole where the animals grazed, Cesar had had enough.

So he decided to do something about it.

Cesar met with the community leaders to come up with a plan. They decided to build a new well. This well would need to operate all year. It would need to be able to support the entire community. Plenty of clean water for everyone, every day. And it would need to be sustainable. If a part needed to be fixed, or the well needed to be serviced, the community must be trained to fix it, and to be able to order new parts.

After reaching out to an engineer from a water construction firm, Cesar and his community had all the information they needed to make it happen. In April of 2015, Cesar wrote a letter to Water Charity, an NGO he thought could help fund the project. In two weeks they were approved, and construction began in November of 2015. By mid-December 2015, construction was finished.

Just in time for Christmas, Cesar had helped provide clean water for all of his friends.

No more desperate lines in the morning and evening. No more sickness. No more worries.

There wasn’t a better feeling in the world. To see the women and children smiling and laughing, with more clean water than they knew what to do with.

Today, the community is doing great. Cesar checks on them about every month, through new Peace Corps Volunteers installed in the community.

But it wasn’t enough.

Cesar learned at any given time, up to 40% of the wells in Africa were unserviceable. Cesar knew his community wasn’t the only place with conditions like this. Many places around the world deal with similar conditions. Or worse.

That’s when Cesar met Lance.

Lance Zaal had completed his MBA at the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary in 2012.

After founding Ignition, a non-profit organization aimed at creating profitable and sustainable businesses, while igniting a passion for entrepreneurship, Lance often visited the College of William and Mary to reach out to would-be entrepreneurs.

That’s when Cesar and Lance started talking. Lance heard Cesar’s idea to make premium coffee to achieve a global mission, and provide clean water for people around the world. It turns out, Lance also wanted to give back. But his story was a little different.

A War-Torn Country

Lance Zaal arrived in Iraq for his first tour of duty in March of 2004.

It would be the first of three tours, where Lance would lead and conduct two-thirds of the patrolling and counter-insurgency operations around Forward Operating Base Hit. Lance and his team of Marines reduced attacks on and around the base by 93 percent.

It was adverse. It was dangerous.

Not just for Lance and his Marines, but for the locals.

Insurgent regimes put pressure on the locals that blurred the lines between friend and foe. Threats were made to innocent citizens, that to associate with the Americans would put them and their families at risk of harsh punishment from the insurgents. Sometimes the citizens were pressured to attack U.S. forces in the interest of the insurgents.

These Iraqi people lived simply. Many of them were farmers. Few of them had any modern conveniences. Even access to water was limited to relatively primitive wells. And now they were in the middle of a war zone, not sure who to trust or which way to go. It seemed there was no way to win.

One day, in the middle of all this, insurgent forces blew up a well at a nearby village. It may or may not have been an accident.

It didn’t matter.

Lance saw how this affected the community. The Marines in the area had already been delivering water to the Iraqis in need. As much as they could. But now the well was destroyed. There was no municipal infrastructure. No running water. That was it. Now these Iraqis were completely dependent on the Marine Expeditionary Unit for water.

This was one of many moments during Lance’s service that he felt what war does to a country. To people. It was one of many moments he would want to give something back to the war-torn places of the world someday. Something good.

Lance would continue to travel during his service, two more times to Iraq, and once to Cuba and Chile. While there, Lance trained with Chilean Commandos and British Marines. He began to see more of the culture. The food. The music. The people. He noticed the people, very often poor and living in humble conditions, were somehow happy and friendly. It didn’t matter that he was American, even though politically, the countries were at odds. The trade embargo didn’t seem to matter to the people. All that mattered was Lance was a fellow human being. A person here to help. And they welcomed him with open arms.

Lance never forgot this.

When Lance heard Cesar’s idea, to make premium coffee to give clean water to communities in need around the world, it seemed a match made in heaven. Both men had already started successful businesses before. Both men had seen, heard and felt what happened to people who didn’t have access to clean water. Cesar in impoverished Madagascar, and Lance in impoverished communities in South America and war-torn Iraq.


Both men wanted to do something about it.

The mission is simple. By making world-class coffee, grown on sustainable farms, and mentored by none other than coffee legend Todd Arnett, Mandela will provide clean water to impoverished and war-torn communities around the world.

Mandela is on a mission.
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