SWAZILAND — On July 20, 2017, in Bay Shore, New York, a chapter of the Thirst Project held a fundraiser at the art studio chain Pinot’s Palette to finance the next well they hope to build in Swaziland, a small nation in southern Africa. The Thirst Project is a national organization that works to mobilize young people to end the global water crisis. Since its founding in 2008, the organization has completed 1,754 clean water projects in 13 different countries. They have served 285,599 people that previously did not have access to clean water sources.
This New York chapter, run by students and one faculty adviser of West Islip High School, has operated since 2012. Since then, they have a raised a cumulative total of approximately $80,000. The high school ranks second on the Thirst Project’s list of top fundraising schools. Also, two of the chapter’s former co-presidents, Alicia Villafana and Taylor Sorice, rank first and second respectively on the organization’s list of top fundraising students.
“We funded a well in Uganda, a well in El Salvador…four wells in Swaziland, and 30 bio-sand filters in India,” faculty adviser, Paola Pozzaglia Nilsen told The Borgen Project. Nilsen has been the group’s adviser since it began at the school in 2012. She originally found out about the organization from the Twitter account of NCIS actor and a member of the Thirst Project Board of Directors Pauley Perrette. Interested in the cause of ending the global water crisis and involving young people in nonprofit work, she contacted Seth Maxwell, the founder of the Thirst Project, to learn how to set up a branch of the Thirst Project at her own school.
Maxwell founded the Thirst Project in 2008 as a college student in Los Angeles after learning from a friend that approximately 1.1 billion people did not have access to a safe source of drinking water. He began by raising awareness of the issue and handing out free water bottles on Hollywood Boulevard. As knowledge of his efforts spread and schools began asking him to speak to their students, Maxwell’s funds grew from $70 to $12,000. Spreading its influence across high school and college campuses, the Thirst Project is now a nationwide organization.
Though the Thirst Project serves 13 countries, its primary goal is to provide everyone in Swaziland with clean water by 2022. The organization would then present their model to the United Nations and other organizations. “[The model would be] proof that clean water can be provided to an entire country,” Nilsen states.
The Thirst Project employs local hydrologists and geologists in the building of community wells. It also requires of its communities sweat-equity hours and a water commission, consisting of five men and five women. These requirements ensure that the community is completely involved and responsible for the construction and maintenance of its well.
“They feel like it’s a step up and a way to get to school, become entrepreneurs, especially the women, and be safe,” says Nilsen, adding that the long walk many women and children take every day to fetch unsanitary water can be fraught with danger.
According to the World Health Organization, 884 million people still lack access to a basic source of drinking water. Approximately 842,000 people die from diarrhea as the result of unsafe drinking water and sanitation. These factors also relate to the transmission of diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.
The Thirst Project, however, believes that if its sustainable model can succeed by providing clean water in Swaziland, other organizations and governments may adopt their model and continue working to bring clean water to as many people as possible.
– Amanda Quinn