To mark World Water Day, we approached our nonprofit partner Water1st to help us understand some of the barriers millions face when accessing clean water around the world. Our goal was to bring the international clean water crisis closer to home by embarking on the “walk for water” ourselves. We thought to utilize the familiar, urban context of Seattle around us, connecting the dots to an otherwise unfamiliar reality. We wondered: what would water collection require of us physically? How would our relationship with water change when we viewed it as a precious resource? And how would our relationship with time change as we allocated a portion of our day to collecting water?
We’ve worked with Water1st in Bangladesh, Mozambique and Honduras; the walk for water looks very different within each country. In Honduras in particular, the walk is usually about 30 minutes in length, and women make this trek multiple times a day, covering 2-3 miles. The rugged terrain demands a route down a mountain to the water source, and then up the same slope to get it home. This scenario seemed to be the one in closest alignment with our Seattle environment.
In 2017, MiiR issued a grant to Water1st to support a coffee growing community of several hundred in Lempira, Honduras. Today, for the first time ever, every household in San Antonio Granadilla has their own tap. Their walk for water has been completely eliminated. We would keep this community in mind as we embraced the challenge to come.
The challenge was simple in concept. A small group of MiiR employees left our headquarters with empty jerry cans in hand, walked to a water access point on Lake Washington roughly .6 miles away, filled them, and walked back. A jerry can holds five gallons of water and weighs about 40 pounds when full.
Walking there, we talked about how this time would be spent otherwise. Because we all started at the office, everyone could agree on lost productivity (whether work itself, or activities fueling work, like making coffee or grabbing lunch).
Once the jerry cans were full, it was immediately obvious that this exercise would require both mental and physical stamina. Given the weight alone, it’s astounding that this household chore generally falls to women and children. Most of us needed help just to lift the load above the shoulders.
"Every step is a thought," Emily said. "[Collecting water every day] would probably test my strength and emotional state forever."
The longer we walked the more tired we became, the more the water meant, and the more aware we became of how little it could be used for. With water on his shoulder, Bryan said, “what’s crazy is five gallons is only enough for food [preparation] and drinking. Doing this three times a day [would be] nuts.”
When the context is lugging five gallons at a time, the daily amount of water we consume for each of the following activities per person becomes staggering:
Drinking - 1 gallon
Handwashing - 1 gallon
Cooking and food prep - 5 gallons
One dishwasher cycle - 11 gallons
Eight minute shower - 15 gallons
One toilet flush - 2 gallons
One laundry load - 20 gallons
Given this information, in our scenario, three round trips would supply enough water for one shower. That’s nearly five miles and 90 minutes of walking. It’s no wonder hygiene falls to the bottom of the list for many.
"Knowing that I could have been spending my time in a meeting or on something to move my business forward gave me fresh realization that there are millions of people, oftentimes women, who are unable to take time to grow their businesses, care for their families and do things that are much more productive." - Bryan Papé, MiiR Founder & CEO
On the topic of family, as a mom herself, Haley contextualized the walk for water to mean time away from her son. “Having a small kid at home, and having to leave him behind or find people to watch him is ... just missed time to be with him.”
Cecilia grappled with the bigger picture. “I couldn't stop imagining how disruptive this walk for water would be as an everyday task … and how difficult it would be to also be sick or facing other physical limitations, to be pregnant or balancing a child in your arms.”
MiiR exists to empower people for a better future, and our Product to Project™ model means every product we sell helps fund trackable giving projects. While our giving framework today supports initiatives extending beyond clean water, this World Water Day we acknowledge that for us, clean water is where it all started. Through our grantmaking and nonprofit partnerships, and today’s World Water Day challenge, we hope to first shed awareness on the clean water crisis, leading to consideration and most importantly, activation. We live by the African proverb, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”