Joining Hands: Thirst Project Non-Profit, Show Choirs Take On Water Crisis
After teaching show choir choreography to more than 70,000 students over the past 34 years, my memories are dotted with recollections of hot, stinky choir rooms and a million droplets of liquid hard work.
But none of those memories compares to a chilly day in Mphafeni.
A tiny village of 300, Mphafeni, Swaziland, is about 50 miles from Mbabane, the nearest city. The last 10 miles of the journey are on a barely traceable dirt and rock road. The "road" is unfit for anything but the heartiest four-wheel drive to negotiate around the endless herds of skinny cattle that roam freely.
Last May, as the non-profit group Thirst Project was drilling a freshwater well in this village that had never had clean water, I gathered about 30 children from the village and taught them a celebration dance. We had no stage..no dance floor…no music…no lights. We communicated by silly noises, because we didn't even speak the same language. And yet as we danced and laughed and high-fived and hugged, it was the greatest moment of my teaching career.
In that moment, the idea of connecting the world of show choir to the global water crisis was born.
Well Of Support
More than 663 million people in our world do not have access to clean water. It's also estimated that 4,100 children under the age of 5 die every single day from drinking water contaminated with parasites or feces. With limited access to potable water, children and the elderly are forced to carry heavy jerry cans for miles every single day just to survive. The need is immense, and the situation is truly desperate.
This is why Thirst Project exists, and this is where the Heart of America National Show Choir Competition Series has stepped in to help.
Founded in the summer of 2008, Thirst Project was started by Indianapolis native Seth Maxwell, a former front-line competitive show choir performer with the Franklin Central High School "FC Singers," who were then under the direction of Purdue University's Bill Griffel. After graduating and going to Hollywood to pursue dreams of acting, Maxwell stumbled across the global water crisis quite by accident when looking at a friend's travel photos.
"The kids in these villages were drinking something that looked like chocolate milk," Maxwell recalls.
But it wasn't chocolate milk. It was filthy water they were forced to drag miles a day in 44-pound containers in the African heat just to have something for their families to drink. Parasites and bacteria in this standing pond and puddle water had the potential to instantly make them sick, giving them worms and diarrhea.
Maxwell remembers gathering $70 and seven of his closest friends. After they bought cases of water and a couple jerry cans, they went out to Hollywood Boulevard to tell people about the water crisis and ask them to donate for the water they handed out.
That day, this ragtag group raised over $700. Although they intended to donate it to a charity and be done with the act, something strange happened.
People started asking them to speak at their schools and kept giving donations to build wells until $12,000 had been raised. That was when Maxwell realized that no water organization had ever focused on activating youth as its primary target group. "Thirst" was born, and since 2008 students have raised over $8 million to drill almost 2,000 wells in 13 countries, giving clean water to over 307,000 people.
Raising Their Voices
When Heart of America co-founders Chad Alexander and Kevin Breazeale were approached about a possible relationship that would raise funds and awareness around the issue, they seized the opportunity.
At the five HOA sites this year (Kansas City, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and Cincinnati), there will be a Thirst booth with information on forming high school clubs, details on the global water crisis, videos chronicling work in the field, and fundraising opportunities to help save lives right at the event. Additionally, announcements will be made periodically throughout the events to let people know about the extent of the crisis. According to Maxwell, the average cost to give a person in a developing country clean water for their entire life is $25.
"Having Thirst Project represented at our events is an excellent way for us to give back to the global community," Breazeale said. "We are just a series of one-day events, but what Thirst does potentially changes lives for a lifetime."
Thirst has also made its mark in the entertainment industry in recent years. Movie, music and TV celebrities such as Jennifer Garner, Kristen Stewart, Dove Cameron, Lance Bass, OK Go, the All-American Rejects, Pauley Perrette and Jenn Bostic have joined forces to support the organization. Likewise, social media stars from YouTube and Twitter, including Connor Franta, Olga Kay and Nash Grier, have given their voices and time generously to the battle.
Maxwell, who founded Thirst at age 19, has gone on to be a featured speaker at TED Talks, a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, a U.S. Department of State spokesperson, and co-host of the TV show "ASPIREist." The aim of his dream is to make students aware of the potential they can unleash for good in the world.
"You don't need another lecture on how to do great things," Maxwell says. "You need permission!"
HOA and Thirst Project will joyfully grant students permission to be great both on and off the stage on five exciting weekends this winter! For more information on Thirst Project and how YOU can help, visit thirstproject.org.