Water and Giving: Leaving a Mark
September 5, 2012
When I was a kid, I used to go and visit my cousins, just like you probably did. We'd play pickup games of soccer, go fishing without actually catching any fish, and generally just run around and make a lot of noise. Then we grew up, got married and had kids, losing touch along the way. But some of us had the chance to reconnect a few years ago, with the younger ones telling me about their nascent careers, and me responding by introducing them to my wife. I found out that life around the house where they'd grown up had evolved in all the expected ways, become a little more high-tech, a little faster-paced.
And then I found out about how an entire town just a few miles away from where we'd all played had been completely wiped out by cholera. Every single man, woman, and child had been killed, just down the road, by a disease that's entirely preventable.
This is what it means to live without the security of clean water. All the needless deaths of the people in that village near where my cousins live could have had their lives saved just by having access to the simple, clean drinking water that you and I take for granted.
This Isn't a National Geographic Special
I tell you this story because today is my birthday, and I need nothing. But what I want, what I ask you to do because you are a good, giving person, and because I hope that something I've done in my life has been worth your time or attention, is to give a little so that we can provide clean water to those who need it. The key details:
- I'm running a charity: water campaign to raise $5000 to provide a clean water for an entire village. charity: water is well-known, reputable, efficient, trustworthy and effective in delivering new water wells to areas of the world that need them. I've sponsored wells before, and this is the most meaningful thing we can do. Your entire donation will go to funding water projects, not overhead.
- You should give $37. It's my 37th birthday, and that makes for a nice number. But it's also enough that you'll feel your gift. I don't want this to be a $10 pledge you absentmindedly send to a Kickstarter campaign, or a $5 gift that's "as much as you'd pay at Starbucks". I want you to make a choice, to spend enough money that you have to think about it and compare it to how much you pay for your own water bill. I know you are generous.
- I tell you the story of how the lack of clean water impacts people a part of the world where I have loved ones because I need you to understand that this isn't some abstract threat that happens to "those people over there" living some exotic life you only see in TV specials. People who die, or have their lives dramatically affected, by the lack of fresh water are exactly like me. Their family is from where mine is from, they speak English as well as I do, they use smartphones to communicate, they are like me in every way except their parents didn't get on a jet and come around the world. And as a result, they can be put in mortal danger by having a glass of water to drink.
The Story of My Life is the Story of Water
In many simple ways, my life has flowed around and through water. I grew up alongside a creek and today live on an island, running with my son alongside the East River and towards New York harbor as often as I can.
But beyond those superficial connections lie deeper ones. My first job, where I discovered that I could put my skills with a computer to use in the business world, was in helping run a small community water utility. One of the first times I really succeeded in blogging about issues that were larger than just my little tech rants was when I wrote about the pointlessness of bottled water; revisiting the idea a few years later led to one of the most popular pieces I've ever written, encouraging me to try to use this voice and platform I've been given to do something more meaningful.
Me in front of one of our village rice paddies, watered by the new irrigation system
And there are my experiences in living in the village where my father grew up. We went back to visit that village in India a few times while I was growing up, but as a young child, my experience was that I was just having fun on a farm and in the rice paddies with my cousins. Aside from some homesickness, I didn't understand the implications of not having clean water.
Going back as an adult, though, the stark reality of not having safe water became extremely clear to me; Our family village got a new, deeper well just within the past decade, but already it has completely transformed many ordinary parts of life. The rice crops can be better irrigated, being more productive and increasing the harvest enough to pay for many more essentials around the village such as communications and education.
The old family home where my dad and his siblings grew up now has fairly extensive plumbing for much of its water needs; I got to watch the installation of running water in my grandparents' home even though I wasn't there because my father filmed some of it on a camcorder while it was being installed. Clean water isn't just about cooking or drinking. Sanitation impacts every aspect of how we live our lives, a fact that many of us in wealthier parts of the world don't often have to confront.
Leaving Its Mark
I see what it means to not have clean water in a small way each time I look at my own hands; My left index finger has a permanent scar from an ordinary cut I got on my finger when I was 9 years old. At the time, I was living in our family village in India, and after slicing my finger, I rinsed it off with water as I would have done in the sink back home in the U.S.
Except the water I rinsed my finger off with was what we all used around the village, sourced from a well that was less than 30 feet deep and had no modern filtering system. (Much of the water we used for cooking was boiled, but as a kid I wasn't going to boil water just to wash off a little cut, and I probably wouldn't have been allowed to start a fire for that anyway.)
Needless to say, the cut got severely infected. Though it's been healed for almost three decades now, my fingerprint still bears a distinct dot where that old cut was. Everything I've touched in the years since has a tiny mark of what it means to be without clean water.
Of course, I'd never compare a superficial papercut to the deaths of entire families, as happens in the most extreme absences of fresh water. And to be clear, my family is privileged, in that they were among the most well-off in the village and able to find many ways to ensure at least some safe drinking water when needed, in addition to the necessary education and access to manage water usage properly.
But I know that so often, we distance ourselves from those who don't have basic needs, thinking that they're so far away that we can't make a difference. Or that they're so different from us that it's not worth it. If you're reading this, you're someone who's found some use from the things I share here. If any of those things have been of value, know that they were possible because I was able to transcend this basic need. And with your help, we're going to let a lot more folks do the same thing.