Seth Maxwell might have only been 19, but once he realized that over 1.1 billion people globally didn’t have access to safe, clean drinking water, he says he “just couldn’t not do something about it.”
On World Water Day 2008, the out activist and some of his friends pooled together $70, bought a few cases of bottled water, and started giving them to people on Hollywood Boulevard. With the free bottle of water came a few facts about the water crisis. To their surprise, it sparked a lot of conversations and questions — not to mention donations — and led to speaking engagements at two local high schools.
“In about a month, those first two schools had done some fundraisers and raised over $12,000,” Maxwell recalls. “And that was the moment we realized that there was huge untapped potential in students and young people around this issue. We had an amazing ability ... to connect with other young people.”
Maxwell initially moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, until the birth of Thirst Project changed his life. What motivates him now is seeing the progress he and his team have made, and the joy and opportunities clean water creates in the communities they help.
“Water just doesn’t mean someone’s not thirsty anymore. It means that women and girls don’t have to spend six to eight hours a day walking … to contaminated water sources just fetching dairy cans full of water,” explains Maxwell. “That’s time those girls can go to school, get an education.”
Nearly 3.5 million people (mostly children) die annually from water-borne diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Lack of fresh water also has a significantly negative impact on those living with HIV, especially those with already compromised immune systems or lacking access to antiretroviral treatment. This is exactly why Thirst Project committed five years ago to bring safe, clean drinking water to the entire country of Swaziland, which has one of the densest populations of people living with HIV.
Thirst Project has now raised over $8 million and helped over 320,000 people in 13 countries get sustainable access to safe, clean water. Maxwell even met with Obama administration officials to discuss the issue, and in 2014, was listed in Forbes’ prestigious “30 under 30” list.
Today, thanks to Thirst Project and similar organizations, the number of people without access to safe and clean water has been reduced from 1.1 billion to 663 million. And Maxwell isn’t stopping anytime soon.
“We believe wholeheartedly that we’ll see the end of this issue, not just in our lifetime, but like, in the next two decades,” says Maxwell. “We’ll be the generation … to push the water crisis into the history books.” (ThirstProject.org)