When Seth Maxwell, then 19, casually met up with a friend for coffee in 2008, he didn’t expect to leave with a completely altered worldview — but that’s exactly what happened. As she spoke to him about the global water crisis, which had left 1.1 billion people without access to safe drinking water and remains the number one killer of children worldwide, Maxwell knew immediately that he wanted to take action.
“It affected my worldview and I couldn’t not do something about it,” he says.
As a college student with limited resources, Maxwell didn’t initially plan on becoming the CEO of the world’s largest youth water organization — he just wanted to make a difference in any way he could. So, he and his friends formed what he calls a “club,” and they set out to inform as many people as possible about the crisis.
water is a human right! join us! #thirstproject #givewater #india
A photo posted by Thirst Project (@thirstproject) on Dec 14, 2016 at 1:37pm PST
After successfully gathering more donations than they expected, the club members expected to go back to life as usual. No one was more surprised than Maxwell when people began referring to his cause as an “organization,” requesting that he and his colleagues visit schools to educate students about the water crisis and how they could help.
Luckily, he said “yes,” and school visits have become an invaluable tool for raising money and awareness about the global water crisis. Maxwell notes that, because he and his team are young themselves, they can effectively connect with students.
“We’re not old guys wearing suits and ties coming in to say ‘don’t do drugs” at an assembly,’ he says. “We go in and tell them, ‘You don’t have to have money to make a real impact in the world you live in. You have everything you need to make a radical, tangible difference.’ I think that message really resonates with students — and it’s so impressive what students can do.”
Maxwell also points out that, because it’s not a political issue, the global water crisis is an ideal way to bring young people of all backgrounds together for an amazing cause.
“Everyone inherently understands the basic need for water and that water is a human right, so I think that’s been really effective,” he says. During school visits, he and his colleagues provide students with all the information and tools they need to host their own fundraisers.
Over the past seven years, Thirst Project has raised over $8 million and funded projects to provide over 280,000 people with safe, clean water.
But, their work isn’t finished — Maxwell aims to provide the entire nation of Swaziland with clean water by 2022, and Thirst is on track to achieve this goal.
The organization has garnered the support of celebrities including Kristen Stewart, Ansel Elgort, Eden Sassoon, Andrea Russett, and Conor Franta.
In fact, one of the new wells that was opened during Maxwell’s trip to Swaziland was donated by Elgort.
Maxwell recently returned from a trip to Swaziland, where he saw the results of Thirst’s hard work in action — the organization celebrated the opening of five wells, all of which had been funded by the Thirst Project. He was accompanied by two students who became very involved with Thirst after the organization visited their schools — and those students also had the amazing opportunity to get an up-close look at what daily life is like for the people they’re devoted to helping.
One moment in particular really resonated with Maxwell:
“I met with a woman who was around 80 years old and, for her entire life, she had hiked for miles each day just to get water,” he recalls. “She spoke of how her grandkids won’t have to do this because of the water project.”
Maxwell emphasizes that, not only is the global water crisis solvable, but millennials are uniquely positioned to be the driving force. He points out that this is a highly educated generation, but many millennials are unemployed or underemployed — so they can donate time if monetary resources are tight. Furthermore, we’re more globally connected than previous generations.
access to clean water means that women and children don’t have to walk miles to get safe drinking water! shop today and give water today! #cybermonday #thirstproject #SWAZI2022
A photo posted by Thirst Project (@thirstproject) on Nov 28, 2016 at 6:57am PST
“People grew up playing video games at age 11 or 12 with people all over the globe, and having conversations in chat rooms about culture that they otherwise wouldn’t have learned about until they were older,” he says, adding that we’ve “been hardwired to care about and try to tackle social issues and create a world that works for everyone.”
A child dies every 21 seconds from a water-related disease, and Maxwell’s message to millennials is that time is of the essence — especially because these deaths are preventable.
“When a community is provided with safe drinking water, disease rates can drop by up to 88 percent almost immediately,” he says.
So, how can we help? Thirst has made it super easy, so there’s no excuse for us to not get involved —
Maxwell says the quickest way to get in touch with the organization about volunteer opportunities is by texting the word “Thirst” to the number 97779. A member of the Thirst team will respond and provide all the necessary information, whether you’re interested in volunteering, donating, or both.
Plenty of us are tight on cash, but here’s something that definitely made me think — a contribution of $25 can provide one person a supply of clean water for life. Surely it’s worth skipping one happy hour or a small shopping splurge to change the life of someone who has been deprived of a basic human right.
If we all pitch in and contribute in any way we can, every person in Swaziland will have access to clean water by 2022 — and that’s an amazing thing to be a part of.