Chances are that turning on a tap and being able to drink the water that comes out without a second thought is nothing to most Tufts students. It may be hard to imagine that almost 1 billion people on earth live without clean drinking water, resulting in over 2.2 million deaths from water−borne illnesses each year.
The Thirst Project, an organization started by college students just four years ago, is on a crusade to make sure that no community has to go without safe water again, and the initiative is now coming to the Hill.
While the Tufts chapter is still in its fledgling stages, its founder, freshman Alexander Zorniger, has already laid out plans for the group’s growth.
“We are in the definition of our infancy,” Zorniger said. “We’ve been planning now for a fair amount of time, but we just had our first meeting … The ultimate goal is to build awareness about the water crisis in developing countries and then to raise funds to put wells into communities of need.”
A well — which costs between $5,000 and $12,000 to build in most developing nations — can provide up to 500 people with clean water indefinitely. According to The Thirst Project’s website, once a safe well has been brought into a community, water−borne disease rates drop by 80 percent and child mortality drops by nearly 99 percent.
“We hope to have at least one of our own Tufts−sponsored wells dug in a country that has limited access to potable drinking water,” Co−President Emily Williams, a freshman, said. “I would [also] really like to see the Tufts community more involved in global water issues and would like the student body to have a greater understanding of the limited access millions of people have to water.”
Zorniger’s main goals for the Tufts chapter are fundraising and recruiting members to create a strong base of support on campus.
“Plans are in the works for fundraising events like going into Boston or Harvard Square [to] fundraise and tell people about our issue just by talking to them. We’ll give away free bottles of water if they’ll just hear us out for a few minutes, and then that will lead to good things,” Zorniger said.
The model of garnering support by distributing bottled water was started by the founder and CEO of The Thirst Project, Seth Maxwell.
“I first became aware of the global water crisis when I was 19,” Maxwell said. “A friend of mine was a photojournalist and she came back to the States from a trip she’d taken for about a year and a half around the world.”
Maxwell went on to say that the photos his friend took told a horrifying story.
“I began to look at images of beautiful children and I listened as she told me their names, told me of the months they’d spent together, only to learn that this six−year−old died of dysentery, or this seven−year−old died of cholera. It was all as a result of people drinking unsafe water,” he said.
Deeply disturbed by what he had seen, Maxwell decided that he would not sit back and do nothing to help improve water availability around the world.
“I left with my worldview destroyed and couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he said. “I felt like I had to act because I genuinely couldn’t not do something. I literally had no idea this was happening before this moment, and suddenly, it was all I could think about and all I could see. If I hadn’t done something, or started telling people and asking them to help, I would have gone crazy.”
Maxwell, who is coming to Tufts this Thursday to speak about his crusade, started with $70 four years ago and has now raised over $2.6 million and funded projects that have provided more than 100,000 people with safe, clean water.
“My favorite achievement thus far was breaking the 100,000 people mark,” Maxwell said. “It’s a huge milestone for us, and we couldn’t be happier.”
While Zorniger knows that he has a lot of work ahead of him, he expressed high hopes for the Tufts chapter.
“The chapter has a bunch of potential … We could continue to stay in mainly a fundraising role, where each well costs $5,000, or we could focus more on sparking The Thirst Project in New England … Since we have so much freedom I really want to leave it up to the members what direction they think they can get the most out of,” he said.
Maxwell offered some advice to the newest chapter of The Thirst Project, saying that they should carve their own path to how they approach their advocacy.
“When you do what you’re good at, versus what you think is the ‘right’ way to do Thirst Projects, that’s when you’ll be the most effective,” he said.