Read more about one traveler’s decision to get off the beach chair to start a clean water revolution.
So you’ve ditched the Parises, Londons and New Yorks of the world in search of a more rustic and cultural travel adventure. You have sworn off the excesses of the western world, abandoned the off-the-beaten (but paved) path, in order to trek down dirt roads through remote villages and urban slums across countries in Asia, Africa and South America. While these simple experiences typically wind up being the most fulfilling, how many times has the not-so-underlying poverty of the developing world left you wanting to get up off your ass and do something, actually anything, to improve the lives of your global neighbors?
Meet Joshua Sanders. A cool, artsy 30-something year old dude who has been traveling to faraway places like Siberia and Egypt since his teens. Although he has definitely savored the spoils of world travel, he was never able to ignore the extreme impoverishment he encountered. So he decided he wanted to do something to make the world a better place. Yet as lofty, and let’s face it, as cliché as it may sound to set out on a mission to save the world, Joshua Sanders committed himself to doing his part.
Like many avid travelers turned non-profiteers, Josh became interested in water sanitation on a trip to Cairo when he fell sick after consuming vegetables, that he believes, were washed in unsanitary water.
“I couldn’t believe that for one of the most toured cities in the world, you couldn’t drink the water” he recounts, still incredulous, as if he just discovered this bit of information yesterday.
Worse still, he visited Cairo’s infamous ‘Garbage City’, an area of the city in which people don’t have running water, a proper sewage system and actually live amongst the trash thrown out by a city of nearly 20 million people.
Places like ‘Garbage City’ are rarely on the must-see list for tourists, but their existence is far more common than you might think. Roughly 84 million people around the world lack access to clean water. Consequently, these people run the risk of contracting deadly water-related diseases. Sadly however, the vast majority of people who die from diseases related to sanitation are children. According to the World Health Organization, 1.4 million children die of diseases caused by unclean water and inadequate sanitation each year.
So after his bout with food poisoning in Egypt (a situation in which he also learned the importance of a bidet) and a first-hand look at life for people living in virtual landfills, he decided to take action.
Water, water everywhere
In February 2010, Joshua and his friend Colin Denlea launched ‘Trashwater’, a non-profit organization which aims to bring the most basic of human needs, clean water, to some of the world’s neediest communities around the globe. Although the project is, relatively speaking, still in its infancy, Joshua and Colin have been busy laying the groundwork for water filtration systems and sanitation centers in Nicaragua, Nepal and Egypt. His most recent successes include the installation of a new water filtration system at Imagine Ministry’s school in Los Brasiles, Nicaragua- one of the most poverty-stricken barrios within the capital city of Managua.
Los Brasiles, Nicaragua
‘Non-profiting’ ain’t easy
The road to alleviating the planet of the miseries of poor sanitation isn’t smooth, nor is it clear-cut. If you let Joshua tell it, wanting to make the world a better place goes way beyond good intentions. Fundraising is a small part of the process. The rest of the work involves filing the paperwork, building awareness, ongoing education about the communities you work in, logistics, the legal stuff and numbers crunching…the list goes on.
“You have to make a firm commitment, to have the stamina and wear-with-all… we were too stupid to quit,” he says describing the everyday tasks of starting a non-profit.
“It’s very frustrating. Everyday I wanted to sandpaper my face.”
While the day-to-day fine points of working to build a viable global non-profit organization can be daunting for a man whose other obligations include a full-time job in marketing and a family that consists of, as Joshua says, ” a wife, two boys and a male fetus”, he and Colin have managed to keep the fundraising part youthful and amusing. They raise money by wielding their love of art and culture to host events and parties in their hometown of Atlanta. “We try to do events that I myself would want to go to”, he says. Trashwater events, as he describes them, are “cheap, interesting and fun”, complete with plenty of PBR, inflatable pools, art, deejays and ATL hipsters.
The Big Picture
Beyond the benjamins he raises to support the project, Josh is focusing on a key element that many aid organizations fail to implement into their business model; sustainability a word that is as complex as it is long. The ability of aid programs to sustain and empower communities is often overlooked. He remembers one particular example of a church group who traveled to Nicaragua to paint houses. “They came down with matching shirts, painted some houses, got some pictures of brown kids and went home feeling happy about what they did. But it’s not like they don’t have paint in Nicaragua. They HAVE paint. So basically they did nothing.” In this respect, Joshua wants Trashwater to differ from other international aid-based organizations.
“Aid only goes so far….And water and sanitation are just an axis point into the community. What we are really concerned about is community empowerment.”
His mission for Trashwater is not to just set up water filtration systems and walk away, but rather a the implementation of a plan that involves a number of measures in which the project can be managed at a local level with little or no involvement from the project’s originators. He includes programs for job training, community awareness campaigns and employment of locals to manage the project in order to create sustainability.
“In 10 years, we want to be able to completely turn the project over to the community.”
So you wanna help? Some advice from Joshua Sanders
If you want start a non-profit…
- Have a clear vision of what you want to do
- Create a solid business plan, but leave plenty of room for flexibility
- When deciding what kind of organization you want to have, figure out what the community wants, not what you want them to want.
If you want to help during your next travels…
- Avoid the main street markets. Many times you will find that most of the products weren’t even produced in the country where they are sold.
- It’s possible to volunteer your time even if you are on a short trip, you can still find places where you can volunteer, even if its only for a short period of time.
- You don’t have to wear matching t-shirts to do good. It’s not necessary.
Are you or is someone you know doing good in the global ‘hood? Tell us in a comment below to be featured in Nomadik Nation.