Mission Clean Water
This could easily have been my favorite project (do I say this every time?)! First of all, it combined my two favorite things -- walking and raising awareness for great causes. Secondly, I got to collaborate with and learn from someone new - a fellow UD Blue Hen who I very much admire. Lastly, I helped to connect issues that aren't often grouped together: clean water and child welfare and female empowerment.
Clean drinking water is essential for life and yet over 884 million people live without it! In areas where water is not available, plentiful, or provided, its typically the job of women and children to collect water for their community. The journey to collect water is long ("The Long Walk"), hard, and very dangerous. Taking up to 8 hours a day, children can not attend school, women cannot hold other jobs, and predators make the job very dangerous. The real crushing blow is that, despite the risks and rigor, much of the water collected is contaminated causing deadly illnesses, especially in young children. James Leitner, founder of Mission Clean Water, has a unique vision, solution, and funding approach to bring about real change! ...
Before I go into my week-long project, let me introduce you to James: He studied Environmental Studies at my alma mater, the University of Delaware and while there, funded, followed, and explored 3 well projects in Tanzania. Reassured of his passion and ideas, James moved to West Virginia in 2015 where he worked as a watershed technician analyzing data and project management. It was there that James decided to train for his first marathon. What does running a marathon have to do with a mission for clean water you may ask. Well, James wanted to demonstrate the arduous journey of a child collecting water by running the marathon with 45lbs of water over his head! Crazy, you think -- Oh, you aren't even there yet! James soon committed to running a marathon every month for a year carrying a blue jerry can filled with water! By May of 2017, James had completed his 12th marathon and had begun to raise real awareness about the need for clean water across the globe. Did this success make him want to retire his running shoes? Of course not, I told you James was unique! James then began a trek across the country, walking 3250 miles and pulling a cart with 10 gallons of water. You read that correctly -- James WALKED 3250 miles across the entire United States educating, learning, and raising awareness for water insecurity (while pulling a cart with his tent, belongings and 2 jerry cans of water)! It took him 143 days!
These grand gestures of strength, endurance, and craziness (I mean this in a nice way) didn't go unnoticed as James was picked up by UPS's Wishes Delivered Campaign and was featured on the Today Show and in USA Today. It gave him the publicity to do what he REALLY always wanted -- to create a nonprofit to address the needs for clean water in needy countries. Mission Clean Water was soon born and stole my heart - along with James too of course! The work of the nonprofit is clear - to build clean and sustainable water projects. Because the current fail rate for projects in Africa is 60%, Mission Clean Water is dedicated to getting to know the community and assessing their ability to maintain it. For them, it's not a numbers game -- it's a matter of where a project will succeed! To raise money for these projects, they've adopted a unique approach to fundraising and development. In addition to traditional methods, it sponsors running and walking groups across the country that raise money for the organization. Runners participate in regularly-scheduled marathons but pay special fees, raise funds, and draw attention for the cause. Supporters have also raised money doing "long walks," 24-hour runs/walks, and others adventures.
Now, can you better understand why I was drawn to this founder, this cause, and this organization? I wanted to try my hand at raising awareness for something important and, after all, I do "long walks" all the time. So, I bought a 5 gallon blue jerry can, labeled it with water facts, and set off on my weekly walking routes - perhaps you saw my posts on FaceBook. I walked in my own neighborhood, at the C&O Canal, in Bethesda, and near my kids' school. I had high hopes and expectations that people would stop me to ask why I was carrying the jug or to engage me in conversation, but, sadly it NEVER happened! Other than my walking partner, no one benefited from my handy water facts or learned anything new! People really weren't curious? Didn't anyone wonder if I had run out of gas or needed help? This was disappointing to me for a variety of reasons -- first, I failed to educate my community about an important issue and two, I realized that too many of us stay to ourselves and don't interact! I'm not considering this a total fail because l will continue to promote Mission Clean Water and will designate 10 miles of my real long walk (my sole 50 mile walk this summer) to raise money for this great organization and cause.
Go James, go! I can't wait to see what you accomplish!
Takeaways: (1) It's so refreshing when someone thinks 'outside of the box' and comes up with a great idea! Raising money by demonstrating the effort necessary to collect water is outstanding. Talking about something is one thing, but doing it is another -- it also brings about empathy. Why don't you try walking holding 45 pounds of water. Can you imagine doing it while dodging predators and in the dark? Can you imagine James running like this, or better yet, walking across the country? (2) It's okay to try and fail at something! I really did think that people would see me walking and chose to learn about water insecurity. Were people simply not curious or were they afraid I'd ask something of them? It was kind of like riding the elevator when no one looks up to say hello! But while my week of walking may not have raised awareness (though I still hope it did on social media), I hope that I'll raise some money for Mission Clean Water on my 50 mile walk in California! Fingers crossed! (3) Like in earlier projects, I don't call myself an environmentalist but may after learning about this issue. James got my attention first by linking it to female empowerment and education. I'll never turn away from that! (4) Community development, just like in my days at the Community Law Center, remains paramount. You can build anything short term, but if you want it to last, you need to work hand-in-hand with the community. This means assessing which communities have the abilities to maintain a project like this and establishing trust. With so much at stake, I can't imagine it being done any other way. (5) I really made a friend/colleague when I got involved with this project. I'm not involved in UD alumni activities and yet I was drawn to James originally because of his connection to UD. At exactly double his age, I learn from him and I hope he learns a bit from me as well!