Kinga Philipps goes on a mission with Waves for Water to Cartagena and provides clean drinking water to communities in need. You can do the same, just by packing a few filters in your suitcase.
There’s a surplus of humanitarian needs in the world we live in. Fortunately, humanity redeems itself with the efforts of people who offer their support, energy, funds and (most importantly) time to make a difference. Every drop fills the bucket as they say…figuratively… and literally in the case of this story.
The majority of aid organizations have a standard formula…you donate money and they’ll do the work. It tends to be a descent system, although one that gives those wanting to help not much in the way of personal experience, first hand satisfaction, or ownership over an aid mission.
Here’s how Waves For Water (W4W) steps up the game…by giving travelers the chance to make the difference themselves.
“Do What You Love and Help Along the Way” is the motto for W4W’s Clean Water Couriers (CWC) program.
The organization itself is built on simplicity. A whopping 780 million people around the world don’t have access to clean water. An uncomplicated water filter design offers 100 people clean water for up to five years. A filter and a five gallon bucket are the only necessities for the system to change lives. In aid as in life, simple = effective.
The W4W team traverses the globe helping areas hit by disaster: Haiti, Japan, Liberia, Pakistan and, most recently, Vanuatu to name a few. They also travel to areas deep in the Amazon, for instance, that simply don’t have the infrastructure for clean water. Their leanness makes them effective in mobilizing on short notice and flying under the radar when bigger groups are still working out logistics. For all the efficiency, it’s a big job. Clean water is a luxury and much of the world lives without it.
The novelty of the CWC program, and what adds to W4W wide reach, is that any average traveler can set up a mission on the website, raise funds and hand-deliver filters to the area they are intending to visit. The two types of filters are $25 and $50 each, so even if grandma and uncle Rick pitch in a few dollars you’ve got yourself a bonafide humanitarian aid mission.
My CWC project took me to Cartagena, Colombia. In 2013, I ran the NYC marathon to raise money for W4W. Had it not been for this positive goal, I would have fallen over in a ditch, since running appeals to me about as much as eating spiders. However, I managed to raise 40 filters through the donations of those who probably felt sorry for my 26.2 mile pain-athon.
In Feb 2015, we packed all 40 filters in our luggage and I flew to Cartagena with my close friend and W4Ws Executive Director, Christian Troy. Since the organization has done work in 25 countries, they often have contacts on the ground that can provide travelers access to the communities in need. In Cartagena, the Araujo family coordinated the effort between the people and our 40 filters, driving us from the center of bustling, beautiful Cartagena to a small village just a few minutes away, making the socioeconomic split of the city starkly obvious.
Gloria, the matriarch of a community of 500 families whose village lacks access to the cities’ clean water, hand selected 40 of those families to receive our filters by choosing those with children and pregnant women.
On a beach, under a tin-roofed structure to block the intense heat, we delivered the message, then split into groups to demonstrate assembly and use of the filters.
We chatted with the families, played with the kids, strolled the village taking in the brightly painted doors and hand sewn curtains hanging in windows with two naked toddlers as our escorts through the sandy streets. Best of all, we connected with the people in a way we would never get to experience had we simply written a check.
Turns out the CWC program offers as much to the traveler as it does to the individuals in need. The experience is priceless and you don’t need to be a doctor, a PhD holding scientist, or a board member of an NGO… you just need to be a traveler with room in your bag for a few filters and an open heart for helping. It’s a win win.
And then there’s Cartagena…salsa dancing at famous Cafe Havana, digging for sand dollars with your toes in the ocean, evening walks through the old city with its European charm and outer wall peppered with cannons where lovers sit to watch the sunset over the ocean as kite surfers whisk back and forth along the coast. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Las Americas with one of Cartagena’s best restaurants, Erre, visited tranquil Isla Baru and ate coconut rice with everything. I left with a full heart, a satisfied stomach and a new set of salsa moves.
Never one to sit still, Kinga Philipps has tested herself for the past decade by traveling the globe, rappelling, caving, scuba diving, jumping out of airplanes and diving with sharks as a writer, producer and on camera host for networks such as CBS, NBC, ABC, USA, AMC, Travel Channel, Fox Sports, Food Network, Current TV, Syfy and National Geographic. Most recently Kinga is the adventure seeking host of Travel Channel’s “The Wild Side with Kinga Philipps”.