Today is World Water Day, when we stop to recognize that nearly one billion people on our planet still live without access to life's most basic need: clean, safe drinking water; that’s one in eight of us.
Lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation kills more people each year than all forms of violence, including war. Women and children in developing nations walk hours every day carrying dirty water home to their families.
We can change that...on your birthday.
charity: water is a non-profit organization working to end the water crisis through the power of birthdays. Why birthdays? Because charity: water began in 2006 with a birthday party. Founder Scott Harrison was turning 31 and decided to ask for donations to water projects instead of presents. All of the money was sent directly to fund water projects for a refugee camp in Uganda. Since then, thousands of people have joined our mission by using their birthdays to raise money for clean water. charity: water uses 100% of this money to directly fund clean water projects, proving every completed project with photos and GPS coordinates on Google Maps.
I’ve worked at charity: water for two years and today is always a special one for not only for the global community, but personally for the staff. It’s a day to reflect on our work, how much there is still to do, and celebrate how far we’ve come. In five years, we’ve been able to help more than 2.5 million people get access to clean, safe drinking water. This year, I’ve tried to understand what it means to reach 2.5 million people—it’s equivalent to Madison Square Garden filled to capacity 125 times over.
But it’s the individual stories, like Helen in Uganda that I deeply connect with. A former colleague, Becky Straw, who now runs the Adventure Project wrote a beautiful piece on Helen’s story. There’s one section that captures the spirit and purpose behind what we strive towards everyday at charity: water.
"Before she had clean water, she would wake up before dawn, take her only two 5-gallon Jerry cans, and walk almost a mile and a half to the nearest water point, which happened to be at a school. Because there simply wasn’t enough water for the area’s population, she’d wait in line with hundreds of other women who also valued clean water. Helen’s only other option was to skip the wait and collect contaminated water from a pond.
Helen spent most of her day walking and waiting. She told me each day she’d say to herself, 'How should I use this water today? Should I water my garden so we can grow food? Should I wash my children’s uniforms? Should I use it to cook a meal? Should we drink this water?' With two children, one husband and 10 gallons, Helen had to make choices.
I saw the shame in her eyes when she described how she would return from her long trek to find her two young children waiting for her. They were often sent home from school because their uniforms were dirty. Helen just never had enough water.
I saw now why she was so eager to scream out her joy and gratitude. She wanted me to understand that this gift from charity: water was real. With the new well in her village, her life was transformed. She now had choices. Free time. Options. Also, Helen has been chosen to be the Water Committee Treasurer, collecting nominal fees from 51 households to use for the maintenance of their well. Water Committees are often the first time women are ever elected to leadership positions in villages.
Last month, Helen was standing in line waiting for water. This month, she’s standing up for her community. And now, she is beautiful."
And while we can take great joy in Helen’s story, I can’t help but think of the millions of other women who are still waiting for clean water.
This is why I chose to ‘give up’ my birthday when I turned 30. It was the best way I knew how to celebrate the many gifts in my life—my health, my education, the luxury of having water available to bathe—by returning a kindness and making it possible for women like Helen to feel beautiful.
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