SolarWorld solar blog

Save a life: Walk for Water

Posted 20 April 2012 12:00 AM by Kelsey McNamara, SolarWorld Solar2World program manager

Every single day, more than 5,000 people die from waterborne illnesses because they lack access to safe drinking water. In many developing countries, people walk miles to a water source to collect often-contaminated water and then carry it home. With one gallon of water weighing over 8 pounds, a five-gallon water jug is 40 pounds. In most cases, the task of fetching the water is left to the women and children, many carrying as much as 30-60 pounds of water.

Water Missions International’s annual fundraiser Walk for Water

A few weeks ago, Amy Keiter, Ben Santarris and I had the opportunity to meet with one of our Solar2World strategic partners, Water Missions International. Water Missions International focuses on bringing reliable, distributed access to clean, potable drinking water in remote areas around the globe and uses exclusively SolarWorld solar panels to power the systems’ water pumps and filtration systems.

We made the trip from the west coast all the way over to Charleston, South Carolina, where we discovered that southern hospitality is alive and well. We were there to develop our relationship from phone- and email-based to a more personal connection and to better understand how Water Missions works to make safe drinking water projects successful in nations like Rwanda and Peru.

We were also lucky to experience local traditions like a ‘pearls and pig’ party where they served southern pulled pork and steamed oysters dumped onto a plywood table with a large shovel. And we had the opportunity to meet Water Missions’ other strategic partners, that supply the water pumps, PVC piping, water testing kits, etc. necessary to produce clean water.

After two days of meetings, the main event arrived: Water Missions International’s annual fundraiser, the “Walk for Water”.

SolarWorld participates in Water Missions International’s annual fundraiser, the ‘Walk for Water’
A portion of the 3,000 Charleston, NC residents who participated in the event.

The walk symbolizes the daily plight of collecting water for those without a clean, reliable water source. At the start of the walk, each participant grabbed an empty two- gallon bucket and set off on a journey to the water source. Halfway through the walk, there was a station where we filled our bucket with brown, dirty water and then began the journey back. At the end of the three-mile walk, each of us dumped what water we had left (many spilling or intentionally dumping some of the water along the way) into a large above-ground swimming pool.

Filling buckets at the Walk for Water event   Filling buckets at the Walk for Water event
SolarWorld's Kelsey McNamara (right) and other participants filling their buckets at start of the walk.

The dirty water runs through the Water Missions International pumping system, powered by SolarWorld Sunmodule™ solar panels, and comes out completely clean and free of pathogens in another pool a few feet away.

We were all very impressed with the community support of the event. Over 3,000 Charleston residents participated in the walk and collected close to $200,000 in donations for clean water projects. There were also many local supporting businesses in attendance including the Charleston water utility, with its mascot, Osmos the water drop, and some Chik-Fil-A cows.

Walk for Water
Charleston particpants with the Chik-Fil-A mascots.  

The event was incredibly well organized, which is a reflection of the organization as a whole. Water Missions International a non-profit organization, but they seem to operate with the speed and efficiency of a driven, for-profit company. To date, they have completed over 600 projects worldwide in 49 countries.

As the manager of our Solar2World program, our visit to Water Missions International made me confident that this partnership is an excellent fit for SolarWorld. I still get goosebumps when I remember what one of the Water Missions staff told us: “Your solar panels do more than provide electricity to buildings. They save lives.”