Uniting to Fight the Global Water Crisis
Author: Liv Blackmon, as told to Aishia Caryn Freeman
I never knew how much is at risk when clean water isn’t available to a community. I learned the impact when I went to a MITRE speaker series event this spring featuring John Halamka, president of the Mayo Clinic Platform, and Doc Hendley, founder of Wine To Water, a nonprofit organization that helps communities around the world develop sustainable clean water solutions. They spoke about the challenges communities at home and abroad face accessing clean water.
The United Nations cites lack of access to clean water as one of the leading causes of death in developing countries, with 844 million people lacking basic water services and 2.1 billion without safely-managed drinking water. More than half the world’s population—4.5 billion people—lack access to safe sanitation. The COVID-19 pandemic makes this crisis worse.
Having clean water creates a ripple effect—from reducing infant mortality rates to providing education to girls, who often walk for miles to collect water for cooking, washing clothes, and bathing.
Doc [Hendley] shared information on the W|W Filter Build® Experience, and I was inspired to help.
Virtual Volunteering for Real Impact
Rather than just volunteer with my family, I thought a virtual filter build would be a great use of MITRE’s paid volunteer time. I thought some colleagues might be interested in helping, too.
The filter build was organized as part of World Water Day [March 22], an annual UN-sponsored event to raise awareness about people without access to safe water. With every sponsored and assembled filter, ten people get clean water for over 10 years.
When I reached out to my colleagues, many weren’t aware of how lack of access to clean water severely impacts communities. Sharing that information and the statistics started a domino effect. Soon we had over 50 employees sign up to help and donate to World Water Day.
My daughter also happened to be co-leading a community service club called Hands United, and suggested we bring in her school, The Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, to enlist more volunteers. Madeira added two other schools, and MITRE recruited a few schools as well.
A Filter-Building Community
Thanks to a Facebook group, the partnership quickly grew beyond MITRE volunteers to include students from The Madeira School, St. Mark’s School, Washington Episcopal School, and Burgundy Farm Country Day School. Now we have thousands of followers, all stemming from my daughter and people at MITRE spreading the word.
Some volunteers purchased, built, and donated filters. Others raised money to cover filter costs so groups could participate without bearing the cost of filters themselves.
We raised $12,000 to purchase and build 163 water filters, providing 1,630 people in Nepal and Haiti with clean drinking water.
The first MITRE and Madeira Filter Build Event brought this humanitarian crisis to light and inspired me to establish an annual MITRE event.
Going Abroad in 2022
I got 40 or more messages from people saying that the filter-building event was one of the best volunteer experiences they’ve ever had. We’re already planning next year’s event.
If we’re COVID-free in 2022, we plan to go to Haiti or Nepal with Wine To Water, build filters, and spend time in-country helping communities develop rainwater kits and handwashing stations.
Originally published as In The Community: Uniting To Fight The Global Water Crisis
Dr. Olivia M. Blackmon stewards strategic engagements and academic alliances across MITRE. In this role, she leads MITRE’s partnership interactions and promotes the development of new partnerships with academia, industry, and non-profit associations and foundations to address public interest challenges at the federal, state and municipal levels.
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