Our ability to look across an ocean and feel the pain of someone we’ve never met, in a country’s name we’ve never heard is the true essence of empathy. Compassion is the bridge we build that gives us a chance to walk over the expanse of apparent differences and shake the hand of someone new. As we utilize the tools of compassion and empathy we can begin to unite for good.
This idea of unity is at the heart of change. The world we live in has more potential for open communication despite language barriers, and more ways than ever before to connect with people. Distance is no longer an excuse for being dismissive and no one embraces this more than the youth of America.
Today’s youth have had the privilege of knowing a world connected through technology. Social media, online gaming, and various other web-enabled platforms have become the cornerstone for communication. This has created a breed of global citizens and international delegates from the comfort of their own homes, schools, and neighborhoods.
However, young people, like many of us, can be consumed with the day-to-day occurrences and ignore the golden opportunity to use their connections in a way that benefits our global society. Seth Maxwell, the 26-year-old head of The Thirst Project, saw an opportunity to empower his peers into action around a fundamental human right that needs to be addressed: the global water crisis.
Everyday, millions in developing countries needlessly suffer from diseases that would have been prevented with the presence of fresh, clean water. This has been an issue for a long time, and it is remarkable that it continues to be a problem that we as a world community have not yet solved. In 2012, the United Nations voted that safe water is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, this is not easily enforceable and it would require every single one of us to do our part. This was one of the reasons why Maxwell decided to start The Thirst Project.
“Our vision is to live in a world that works for everyone,” says Maxwell. “Where the human right of safe water is something everyone has access to.”
Of course, there are many other organizations that are set at resolving the global water issue, but what sets The Thirst Project apart is their focus on engaging millennials.
“People are surprised when young people take action, which is a shame that people expect so little from them,” Maxwell said. “This demographic has the most disposable income with the most amount of free time and has not lost the belief that they can change the world that they live in.”
In order to engage this demographic, The Thirst Project has spoken in more than 300 schools this year and has created on-campus campaigns and programs intended to raise awareness and donations. Beyond the commonplace school assemblies, Maxwell and his team ignite students into action through interactive games and activities nationwide. By capturing their attention, the youth get involved right away and immediately begin participating in the solution.
Campaigns such as the “Dirty Little Secret” has students carry around a dirty glass of water resembling the drinking water of many third world countries, bringing the reality of what many impoverished people live with into the forefront of our minds. This not only creates an atmosphere of empathy and understanding, but also encourages interaction between the students and those they encounter throughout their day, propelling compassionate dialogue, empathy, and a solution around this issue.
“For $25 you could give clean water to one person for life,” Maxwell says. “Not 25 a month, not 25 a year. Twenty five dollars, one time, to change someone’s life forever.”
This small amount, broken down among thousands of individuals, brings this enormously large problem into a manageable scope. The Thirst Project’s goal is to maximize the donations and resources available in order to make the most change possible. Much like the concept of providing pure water to the world, 100 percent of the donations go directly toward creating the infrastructure for safe, clean water, leaving the intention of the donations unpolluted.
All operational costs are covered by alternative sources, keeping the money raised going directly towards resolving the issue. With this singleness of purpose in mind, The Thirst Project has been able to focus on their primary objective: ending the water crisis in Swaziland, Africa.
Swaziland’s need for fresh drinking water has become a microcosm of the cause. Its dry conditions, poverty, and AIDS epidemic has made it a case study exemplifying the potential power of Maxwell’s vision. The Thirst Project has committed to a 10 year plan to give everyone in the country safe drinking water. Seven years into it, and they are on schedule for accomplishing just that.
“We picked Swaziland not only because of the desperate need, but also because the goal is so accessibly attainable,” says Maxwell. “We can see the finish line, we have the tools, and we can use this as template to replicate in other regions.”
With half a million dollars raised from schools alone, Maxwell and his team aim to double their school visits from 300 to 600 in the coming year. Although the school programs are the heartbeat that bring life to their project, they have also been fortunate to have the support of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.
“So many have given to us whether through leveraging their voice and influence to raise the profile of the water crisis and the work we are doing, as well as donating large sums of money toward our efforts,” says Maxwell.
This incredible cause is fortified by the essence of their vision. With every school visit, Maxwell and his team create a new republic of youth activists ready to reach beyond the doorsteps of their understanding and take the hand of someone in need.
“We are creating a generation of socially conscious activist, we call it the Joy Generation,” reflects Maxwell.
The Thirst Project is giving the young people of America the keys of compassion and empathy and empowering this generation to open the door to a world where clean water is available to all. Through coming together around this elemental issue, this group of connected youth will be able to take responsibility and a sense of ownership for the world they live in. Rather than idly standing by and watching events unfold across an ocean, they will build a bridge of compassion and walk in solidarity toward a solution.