On World Water Day last month, many people took some time to recognize global water issues. Some attended events and possibly even thought about water conservation and the importance of water in their own daily lives. But there was a group of people in Austin, Texas, who recognized World Water Day by forgoing showers for a week to bring attention to, and raise funds for, clean water for people who have none.
We are inundated with statistics about lack of clean water in places like Africa, and the saturation of “water charity” work in the philanthropic media space has become a continual buzz that many have started to tune out. Moreover, what we’re told about water charity and how it impacts the people it’s supposed to serve is confusing and, at times, insincere.
The sobering reality is that almost one billion people in the world still suffer from lack of access to clean water. What’s worse is that more than 60 percent of “water aid,” albeit well-intentioned, is tragically ineffective.
I started an organization to get water to people who have none. Then, I grew it to address all of the issues that challenge the success of water aid, so that all of our water systems work and are sustainable. All of the communities we have worked with are thriving. (You can see how we operate and the projects we’ve completed at our website: www.WellAwareWorld.org.)
Our successful model and hard work alone aren’t enough to achieve our goals. We still have to come up with the resources that the communities lack to kick-start their prosperity. So, we invented the Shower Strike.
Before we broke ground on our first water well, our small, scrappy team sat on the floor in my living room (likely killing a bottle of wine), brainstorming about how we could raise enough money to pull off our first project. One of our very creative members said something like, “Hey, Sarah, you don’t shower anyway. Let’s all go on Shower Strike.” My personal hygiene wasn’t that compromised by most standards, but I worked from home at the time, and, well, why bother if no one is going to see you that day, right? We all had a belly laugh about it, but then we thought we might be onto something. What better way to bring attention to this crucial cause? And, our friends and family will likely be motivated to fund our campaign if it meant we would resume our regular washing.
So, in August of 2009, in the scorching heat of a Texas summer, we launched our first Shower Strike awareness campaign and fundraiser. We talked 12 of our friends into joining us, and we all vowed to eschew the shower until we raised our goal amount toward our first water well.
Back then, on a shoestring budget, I winged it and created our own “crowdfunding” campaign. I spent time coding PayPal buttons for all of our unwashed warriors, and I updated everyone’s pages individually every hour. I blasted poorly-written press releases to all the local media, and sent determined pleas to all of our contacts manually (and repeatedly).
My parents thought I had gone off the deep end. My boyfriend told me I was nuts (but he still helped out). We received some pretty nasty comments on local media blogs. Our modern day hate mail ranged from “get out of Texas, you filthy hippies” to “if I see you funky weirdos out, I’m going to douse you with my beer.”
But, the negative attention ended up furthering our crusade, and it was thrilling! I got a notice every few minutes that someone donated to our Shower Strike, and by the end of the week, we had raised a little more than $25,000. We almost couldn’t believe it. We had enough for the water well we had been working toward for three years in just one week. Then, we knew we were onto something. So, I trademarked Shower Strike and started making plans for years to come.
Shower Strike has been evolving every year since. Last month, we raised over $125,000 for our projects in Kenya, and we have provided clean water to more than 25,000 people through Shower Strike. People from all over the world participate. We have transformed communities with this initiative, and our proven sustainability model and efficiency allow us to provide water to an individual for only $15 for decades.
Going without a nice, hot shower for a few days can be a bit of an imposition. But, when I see my young daughter get a big glass of water from the kitchen sink, I think of all the children who have to spend their days walking in the heat to carry forty pounds of water back to their families – because that’s all they have. And then, my sacrifice doesn’t seem so rough.
So, that’s what I did last month. We hope you can join us next year! But, if you’re unable to skip a shower or two (it’s really not that bad!), a contribution toward our clean water work this year, in any amount, will make an impact. The water systems supported by Shower Strike serve schools, medical clinics, disabled children’s centers, agricultural initiatives and entire communities
Thank you for taking the time to read about the unique way we’re tackling the water crisis. To read the media coverage of Shower Strike 2014, check out our press page here – http://wellawareworld.org/press/media-coverage.
I hope you’ll take the plunge with us next time!