Joining Hands: Thirst Project Non-Profit, Show Choirs Take On Water Crisis

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By Damon Brown

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 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.

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