Finding My Path from Corporate America to Africa

I was never a proponent of the “follow your heart” adage, and I grew up believing that giving in to your emotions was a weakness. As a twenty-something, I had full resolve that I would be a successful attorney, or something comparable in prestige, and be one of those career women who dictated memos, answered important calls, and chugged a triple espresso my assistant made me, all while driving my fancy car to some important event. But now, at 38, I earn a very modest salary working to provide water to impoverished communities in Africa. I spend a lot of time on long bumpy roads, I lease a modest mom-mobile, I take calls patiently, and I make my own coffee. And, I am full of gratitude to be living my calling in life.

After completing law school, finding a great job, and spending some time working in Texas politics, I found myself confused by a feeling of emptiness despite living “my dream.” My soul felt faded, and I wasn’t motivated by where these career paths promised to take me.

In the midst of this era of ennui, I met someone on an airplane who became a good friend. She told me about her heritage and her Kenyan father’s family. She explained that they lived on barely any water at all, and most of the time, that water was contaminated. She asked me to help her raise funds to replace some of the livestock that were dying in the arid area. I was overwhelmed with an inclination to help and immediately committed to the project. But I soon realized that just purchasing animals for this community wasn’t going to solve their problems.

What this community needed was clean water. I didn’t know a drill bit from a gigabit back then, but it didn’t matter. The injustice that so many people face being deprived of the most basic of necessities consumed me, and I was determined to take action. So I formed a nonprofit, named it Well Aware, and got to work.

As it turns out, drilling a well on the other side of the world is not simple, and neither is raising funds. But I doggedly spread the word about my mission and finally found resources to implement our project and came up with a way to pay for it through our first Shower Strike fundraiser.

Finally, in January 2010, our team flew to Kenya to supervise the drilling of our first well in Oltinga. It was thrilling and terrifying, and it changed me forever. The first trip humbled me to a most basic and vulnerable version of myself. Everything I thought I ever “needed” changed.

Watching the drilling of the well was exhilarating, and being a witness to clean water erupting from the earth as the community gathered and celebrated was surreal. The women emotionally described how they would now seek education and earn money so that their children could receive an education, as well. The pain and sadness they felt from the children they lost to contaminated water, and their hardened spirits from backbreaking manual labor carrying water every day, could be seen through their tears. But, they knew that the course of their lives changed in that moment, and the intense relief and gratitude they felt was staggering.

The children were overjoyed, as well. They already knew, too, of the heavy burden of illness and laborious work for water. I will never forget how the face of one small girl changed when she saw the clean water for the first time. She stared intently with awe and curiosity, but with with a quizzical skepticism. I filled a bottle and brought it to her. I held her in my arms while she tipped the big bottle back and drank the whole thing in what seemed like a few seconds. And, when the bottle left her lips, her eyes met mine, and they sparkled with delight.

I was a different person after that day. My life would never be the same because I was never going to give up on getting water to as many people as I could. I no longer wanted the things I did before, and I saw the world and everyone in it through a different, cleaner lens. I was awake.

Since then, we have provided water to more than 55,000 people in Kenya. We work closely with (not for) communities, and we watch proudly as villages thrive on their own and build new schools and medical clinics and create new agriculture and commerce. There are so many more healthy children and empowered women.

I’ve made quite a few sacrifices to build Well Aware. I gave up owning a home, I sold a car, I relied on family for help, and I learned to appreciate all things second-hand. But, I wake up every morning so grateful to be connected to authentic humanity and actively participating in improving the world, if only a well at a time.

If you would like to join my crusade and help raise funds and awareness for clean water, please visit our website for more information on our projects, our unique sustainability model, and our 100% success rate at www.WellAwareWorld.org.

(Via Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling)