Thunderbird well brings clean water to Cambodian school

A side trip from Thailand to see the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia led to a new social mission for Dean Warner ’57, who now helps bring clean water to communities in the region. “You could see the need,” Warner said. “The poverty is unbelievable.” Warner and another T-bird, Brett Brown 97, shared the cost for one pump on Thunderbird’s behalf that now serves about 650 children at an elementary school in Siem Reap. They also are donating sports equipment to schools in the area.

Warner says one in five children who dies in Cambodia before age 5 succumbs to complications from dirty drinking water. “In most of the villages and homes, they just have primitive sanitation facilities,” he says. “A lot of people don’t understand hygiene.” The organization behind the movement has no paid staff — something that attracted Warner, a retired folk art dealer who founded the ThunderShop, a campus store originally called the Thunderbird Global Market during the Roy Herberger administration. Even today, most of the art displayed at Thunderbird was donated by Warner.

He says his passion for folk art and artifacts from around the world started during his undergraduate studies in Mexico. During his spare time, he would venture with friends to see the Aztec ruins and surrounding markets. When he came to Thunderbird, he brought a small collection of artifacts and artwork.

Almost by accident before graduation, he discovered the real worth of his collection. He promptly threw out plans for an international banking career and instead moved to Peru to expand his inventory. Eventually he opened an art gallery in Dallas, Texas, and started organizing traveling sales shows. “I would be dead by now, I’m sure, if I had stayed in banking,” says Warner, who splits his time between San Francisco, Thailand and Cambodia.

Besides the Thunderbird pump, Warner and others have donated pumps as gifts on behalf of friends and relatives. Once a well is installed, a sign is added with the sponsor’s name, and pictures are sent. Each well costs about $500, which includes installation, spare filters and scheduled maintenance. To make a donation to the water pump project, send inquiries to Thunderbird Magazine at

Photo caption: Cambodia Clean Water founder Ly Heang, left, and Dean Warner ’57 visit a newly installed pump in March 2013 at an elementary school in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The pump, donated on behalf of Thunderbird School of Global Management, will provide clean water for about 650 schoolchildren.

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