A little more than a year ago, my dad walked in the door, put a book in front of me and said, “Flip through it.” It was Water is Key: A Better Future for Africa, full of photographs by former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti. I couldn’t believe what I saw and I couldn’t believe what I read. I never knew that the lack of clean water could cause so much harm—terrible diseases…even death.
Before reading the book, I couldn’t have named even one country in West Africa, but by the time I finished, I was determined to do something and I started by spreading the word. If I didn’t know about this problem, I figured that my friends and classmates didn’t either. I had a meeting with the assistant principal and pastor of my school and parish, St. Paul the Apostle, and we arranged for me to speak at five Masses that weekend.
Then I told the parishioners about Wells Bring Hope and how it only takes $5,600 to drill a well and save lives. That weekend I raised enough money for two wells and more kept coming in. I started raising money at school too, participating in fundraisers where I did things like wash dishes for tips. My friends became interested, and they started helping too.
Reading that book and finding Wells Bring Hope started a ripple effect that I couldn’t believe: my friends and I raised enough money for five wells, giving more than 3,000 people access to clean, safe water. That was exactly what I was hoping for.
I was shocked to learn how much Nigerien girls, girls who are just like me, suffer. Women and girls are responsible for gathering water for their families, which means that they have to walk four to six miles a day and do the back-breaking work of pulling up water and carrying it back on their heads. They do this every single day of their lives.
This daily trek takes hours, and in addition to being exhausting and painful, it means that these girls miss out on something that I take for granted, an education.
In Niger, 50% of girls go to elementary school, ten percent go to middle school, and only two percent go to high school! Without an education, these girls marry at a very early age, as young as 12, and 75% of them are married by the time they turn eighteen!
This is a photo of (from left to right) my dad Ken, me, Gil Garcetti, Wells Bring Hope founder Barbara Goldberg, and my brother Ross at a fundraiser last year.
These statistics made me think about how different my life would be if I had been born there instead of here. That made me more determined than ever to do everything I can to help improve the quality of life for girls in Niger.
The children of my generation do not appreciate being the last to know things. We are great believers in fighting for the greater good, but we have to know what to fight for! My main goal is to spread awareness–to make sure that people know how easy it is to save lives with safe water, to make sure they know that it is as simple as drilling a well. I hope that other people, especially girls like me, will be motivated to do what I did and raise money to help people who so desperately need it.