By Mayshad Mag
Mayshad Magazine is an advocacy platform for empowerment which mainly focuses on empowering women, raising awareness and exploring a contemporary lifestyle.
– What ignited the spark in you to start the Thirst Project? How did the idea come about?
I first learned about the water crisis when I was 19 from a friend who was a photojournalist. At that point, 1.1 billion people on our planet did not have access to safe, clean drinking water. I couldn’t believe how massive in scale the water crisis was and that I had never heard about it. As I learned about the realities of the crisis, I was struck by how far-reaching the impact of it is. Today, 663 million people on our planet do not have access to basic, safe, clean drinking water. Waterborne diseases kill more children under the age of five than AIDS and malaria COMBINED. Diarrhea and dysentery are the number one and number two killers of children globally. The average distance that someone walks to fetch water in the developing world is 3.75 miles. This means that children are often unable to go to school or get an education because of the thousands of hours wasted annually just hailing water. It means that women are often unable to get jobs and contribute financially to their households simply because of the thousands of hours wasted annually just hauling water. And yet, despite this issue touching every sector of life, it is also one of the most SOLVABLE issues in our world. We KNOW how to get people clean water. The idea for The Thirst Project came about accidentally. When you’re 19 and you care about something, you start a club. My friends and I started raising awareness of this issue around our school and city. A few other friends at other schools asked if we would help them start something similar, so we spoke at Esperanza High School in Orange County, and Berkeley. In one month, those first two schools, and our own, raised over $12,000, which was when we realized that there was tremendous untapped potential in students and young people around this issue. So, we created The Thirst Project. Today, we have a School Tour that travels across the country speaking at High Schools and Colleges to educate students about the global water crisis and challenge them to do something about it. This year alone, the School Tour will speak to over 100,000 students on more than 400 campuses in the United States. And those are just the students we can go speak to. We can’t physically travel to all of the schools we work with, but there are another 260,000 high school students fundraising for us outside of the Tour. Those students, in turn, do fundraisers like walks, dances, video game tournaments, all to raise awareness and funds to build real water projects in developing countries around the world to give clean water to those who need it most. We commit to give 100% of all student and public donations directly to building water projects. Our Board leads an incredible group of private donors who give generously to cover ALL administrative expenses so that we can make this guarantee to the public. In just nine years, students have raised over $9 million, 100% of which has been used to build water projects in 13 countries giving over 330,000 people safe, clean water for the rest of their lives.
– Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
This may sound cliche, but I mean it in the most sincere, least trite way possible. My mother has had a tremendous impact on me as a leader. As I grew up, she not only exemplified and lived out the very best qualities of a leader, but she encouraged me to develop those qualities myself. When other parents would have told their children to fall in line or always do as their told at school, my mother was the one who taught me to always stand up for what I believe, even if it got me in trouble. When a truly exceptional teacher was wrongly suspended by our high school administration so that they could save face, many of us protested to support our teacher. I made a shirt that said, “I support Mr. _” (a shirt that I made certain adhered to all of our dress code guidelines before I wore it). My fifth-period teacher yelled at me and told me to go to the Dean’s office and not to return to his classroom until I changed my shirt. When I arrived in the Dean’s office and they asked why I was there I told them what my teacher had said and then said I needed them to tell that teacher that I was allowed to wear the shirt. The Dean replied that even if an article of clothing complied with the dress code, but a teacher deemed it in their opinion to be disruptive to the school environment, that a student had to change it. I walked out of the Dean’s office and went to the Principal’s office. I made my case and asked him to instruct my teacher to allow me to wear the shirt. When he told me he couldn’t do that, I walked out of his office, went to my Guidance Counselor’s Office, and called my mom to explain to her what I was doing. Rather than tell me to do what I was told, she drove to school to pick me up for the day since I wouldn’t be allowed back into class. She helped me call every major news outlet in our city, all of whom stood with me in front of my school as the backdrop to the morning news segment the following morning. When I got to my fifth period class time, I went and sat in the Guidance Office, knowing I would take a zero, fail the class, and plan to write an essay about why I did so in my college application process. After five days, my fifth-period teacher apologized to me for yelling at me in front of the class, acknowledged that I was a good student, and, until that point, had no challenge with him, and allowed me back. I tell you all of this to say, there is NO doubt in my mind that I absolutely would not have ever believed I could do half of the things I have done had my mother not taught me to believe that I could, and, that I should.
– When you imagine an empowered human being, what do you see?
When I imagine an empowered human being, I see someone who has the freedom to look at the world around them, survey it, identify what is broken, what is not working, for them or for others, and to have the agency and belief in themselves to take the action necessary to change it for the better.
– Tell us about your own personal path of empowerment. What was significant?
I’d refer to the story I told about my mother for this answer. 🙂
– What is your vision or hope for the planet?
My hope for the planet is that we will, in the next two decades or less, live in a world where every single human being has access to safe, clean water. I believe that water is a human right, and, it’s not just a young person’s idealism. I KNOW we will see the end of this issue in our lifetime. When we began our work almost 10 years ago 1.1 billion people didn’t have access to safe, clean drinking water. Today, it’s 663 million! We will be the generation to push the water crisis into the history books. It’s just a question of how quickly we can move that ball down the field.