Seth Maxwell was a 19-year-old acting student in Los Angeles when a brief meeting with a friend who’d just returned from Africa changed the course of his life forever. Upon learning that almost one billion people lack access to clean water and that water-borne illnesses account for more than 80% of all global disease, he gave up acting to focus on water education. The Thirst Project is a movement of young people who are raising awareness around and bringing solutions to the global water crisis. Combining outreach and water well implementation, The Thirst Project has completed more than 392 freshwater development projects across the globe and reached 200,000 American students with its eye-opening educational programs.
Charity Spring scored an Exclusive interview with him.
Tell us about The Thirst Project. What is the initiative all about?
Almost 1 billion people on the planet do not have access to safe, clean water, and 4,400 kids under the age of five will die today from drinking dirty water. The Thirst Project is a movement of high school and college students that builds freshwater wells in developing nations and impoverished communities to provide people with safe, clean water. A nonprofit organization, The Thirst Project travels across the United States speaking at schools to educate students about the global water crisis and challenge them to fund raise to build wells. 100% of all public gifts go directly to funding freshwater wells on the ground. The Thirst Project has given more than 180,000 people in 11 countries safe, clean water.
Your initiative is innovation at its best. How did you come up with this idea?
I was 19, living in Los Angeles, studying in college, and I had a friend who was a photojournalist for National Geographic, who returned to LA from a trip that she took all over the world for about a year and a half. We got together at Starbucks to catch up, and I sat, stunned, as I looked at picture after picture after picture of three, and four, and five-year-olds on the side of the road, drinking water out of puddles, ponds, swamps, stuff that looked like chocolate milk. And I wasn’t just looking at some far off or removed “sad pictures,” but I began to listen to the most piercing stories of people who she had befriended over a three or four month period each of the communities she worked in, many of whom she watched died of dysentery, cholera, things I had never even imagined. All as a direct result of just drinking dirty water. I went home and began researching, and discovered that there are almost one billion people on the planet, still, today, in 2013, who do not have access to basic, safe, clean drinking water. I learned that 4,400 children under the age of five die EVERY DAY as a result of drinking dirty water. So, I couldn’t ignore it. My entire worldview was shattered. I started by just raising awareness on my college campus with my friends. Shortly after we started, two schools asked us to speak about the water crisis at their school and what we were doing about it at our campus. Just one month later, both schools had done fundraisers and raised over $12,000 that they gave to us to build wells. THAT was the moment I knew we could do something significant, and The Thirst Project was born.
Seth, you are one of of the youngest social entrepreneurs today. Do you see yourself doing something else too in the near future? Something even more ingenious and breakthrough in the world of philanthropy?
Thank you so much for the kind words and compliments. I don’t think of myself as some crazy innovator. I just think of myself as responding to a need in the most natural way I could. I don’t know that I’ll work for The Thirst Project FOREVER (I’m only 25, after all), but, I’m here for the foreseeable future. We made a huge commitment last year to give the entire nation of Swaziland safe, clean water within the next decade, so I’m definitely here for the next 10 years. Who knows after that. :)
The Thirst Project is operational in different parts of the world, how do you decide the location of your project?
We have a Water Project Technical Board (separate from our actual Board of Governors). This Technical Board is comprised of 3 Civil Engineers and 2 Hydrologists. Their sole role in The Thirst Project is to oversee the water projects we implement and maintain our Sustainability Practices. They are the ones who determine where we build, how we build, how we engage communities, etc.
How can our readers help in making your noble cause a huge success?
The best way for teens to get involved is to bring us to their school on our School Tour! To do that, email Amber@ThirstPoject.org! After that, DO SOMETHING! Raise awareness on your campus, host a fundraiser, and get your friends and school to raise funds to build a well!
PLEASE provide support to this noble cause by volunteering and donating. Extend a helping hand and save a dying kid :)