By Christina Kelso/JU communications sophomore
As a light rain trickled down onto the Jacksonville University campus on the morning of March 12, thoughts of water flickered to the people that crossed its path. Whether by means of a brief smile, nonchalant acknowledgement, or pang of annoyance as they shook droplets off their shoes, it was easy for water to cross the mind.
But for the small group of students who nestled into the shelter of the JU Bookstore that morning, feelings about water seeped into them deeper than through a passing thought.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Thirst Project, a non-profit organization designed to raise awareness about and combat the global clean water crisis, transformed the store into a center stage. Thirst Project Ambassador Brad Thompson took the room’s thoughts away from the clouds dripping over JU’s doorsteps and to the nearly 1 billion people around the world living without access to clean drinking water.
“It’s staggering how many people don’t know that there are so many dying from the most basic need in the world,” Thompson said.
More than 894 million people live in communities without a clean water source, according to a 2012 report by the United Nations. Because of this, more than 2.2 million people a year die from illnesses stemming from drinking contaminated water, according to thirstproject.org.
The Thirst Project confronts this issue through education and by constructing and maintaining freshwater wells, which provide communities with drinking water, Thompson said.
It began when eight Los Angeles college students, including Thompson, started the Thirst Project’s first fundraiser in 2010 with $70. With the goal of raising enough money to rehabilitate one freshwater well for a community, they purchased bottles of water, went to Hollywood Boulevard, gave them to people walking by, and talked about the problem, Thompson said. The students gathered $1,700 in donations. In the three years following its unorthodox beginning, the Thirst Project has raised more than $2.5 million and completed projects in more than 12 countries.
“That’s a bunch of college kids,” Thompson said. “Our whole staff is right out of college. You guys are capable of crazy things. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.”
Thompson encouraged students to educate others on the problem and to act. The Thirst Project is hoping to find student leaders to promote awareness and to organize fundraisers for the cause.
JU freshman and film major Brittany Busch attended the presentation without any knowledge of The Thirst Project or of the extent of the water crisis.
“I started to cry,” Busch said. “It really made me want to go and get out there. Do something about it.”
Busch left with the idea to bring the program to the attention of members of her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, and consider organizing a fundraiser for the Thirst Project.
As an incentive to get involved, the organization is hosting a national fundraising competition. The two 18-35 year olds who raise the most money by June 1 will be awarded a vacation package of their choice through one of the program’s sponsors, Contiki Tours.
“It’s whatever you’re into,” Thompson said. “We’ve seen walks for water, races for water, video game tournaments. We even had a rock, paper, scissors tournament that raised $4,000.”
The Thirst Project came to JU through cooperation with Follett Corp., which owns and operates a national network of bookstores, including JU’s.
“We are so proud of the students here on campus for coming and for thoroughly paying attention,” Assistant Store Manager Angie Surfanski said. “We were proud to be a host of this and to see the turnout.”
Following the presentation, students lingered in the bookstore, signing up for the Thirst Project mailing list, as well as chatting amongst themselves and with Thompson about the organization and his experience.
“I have to say, this is the best bookstore presentation I have given so far,” Thompson said.
People interested in learning more about the Thirst Project and how to get involved can visit the organization’s website at thirstproject.org; begin organizing a fundraiser by contacting a representative directly at info@ThirstProject.org; “like” the organization on Facebook; or follow the organization on Twitter.