It’s all too easy to get swept up in the planning for your big day. Suddenly, you find yourself daydreaming in meetings, wondering if your favorite food truck can dish up bites at your cocktail hour, or envisioning that chic motif you’d like imprinted on your invitations. That’s why it’s all the more important to remain in touch with the real world—and the real issues at play. As much as we adore gushing over every single day-of detail, Be U Weddings maintains a commitment to bringing you bits beyond the bridal. One such ? A water-focused charity that recently planted roots in Chicago, Water 1st. Water 1st enables the world’s poorest people to implement and sustain community-managed projects integrating clean water, sanitation and hygiene education. Quite simply, the organization believes in doing its part to to create a world where everyone has access to a sustainable, clean water supply and a toilet. Makes you take a moment to analyze your own day-to-day concerns, doesn’t it? We spoke with Kimberly Edstrom Schiller, Chicago outreach and events director, to gather more insight into helping people meet their most basic needs.
Q: What is Water 1st all about?
A: “Our mission is to bring clean water and healthy sanitation to the world’s poorest areas. We currently have water projects in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, and Honduras. All of them are 100% still up and running from start to finish. Typically for water projects, there is a success rate of 50%, so this is great. I believe a lot of it is because it’s about bringing the clean water to the people, instead of saying, ‘Here is an apparatus or a filter to clean your water.’ They key is being able to bring water to people’s homes, where all they have to do is step out to the front of their house for a water faucet and basin. For some locations, depending on how urban they are ( like Inda in the slums), we’ve placed the water as a pump or a faucet that is in a communal place for the community or the village. Your walk for water is going to be 10-15 minutes, instead of hours of end for probably dirty water. As much as it is about helping people increase quality of life. it’s about increasing their health.”
Q: What differentiates Water 1st from other water organizations?
A: “There are two big things in my opinion. First, we’re trying to eliminate the walk [to a water source]. A key point in eliminating this is that girls are then able to go to school; interestingly enough, a lot of acquiring the water falls on the women and little girls. With Water 1st, girls have been able to go to school, and women are able to take care of other things in homes. We’ve found that they are spending time walking to dirty water, and then get home to husbands who ask why they didn’t do certain things. Our organization helps to free up their time and increase their quality of life, to grow a garden, to feed their family, or do other things that take time.
Another thing that I think is important: Something that appears in every aspect of how Water 1st operates is affirmation. A lot of saying, ‘Hey, you are doing an awesome job by making a choice to have clean water!’ There’s such a sense of appreciation. Sometimes, in different organizations, that gets lost. A lot of times we go about our daily lives without saying thanks. Currently, I’m writing personal thank you notes to everyone because I think that’s what people need. I want to let people know how appreciated it is. It really is about how every dollar helps. Every dollar makes a difference.”
Q: Granted we are obviously partial, but why did the organization choose to launch a branch in Chicago?
A: “We just launched in Chicago in July. Part of that was because we had an event in March at Prairie Production called Give Water, Give Life. There was such a phenomenal response to that event that they did something they never did before and decided to grow into another city.”
Q: How would you describe your role with Water 1st?
A: “I am the outreach and events director here in Chicago. My role is to produce events that raise awareness as well as encourage donations. We’re trying to put together a ‘Carry 5′ event in Chicago; it’s a walk for water while carrying a vessel. We walk to and from the water source, carrying something that would hold water, just like the people we’re helping with Water 1st would do.”
Q: How can Chicagoans get involved?
A: “We will have some events in the city beginning in 2013. We’re always looking for people who might own a store or restaurant who want to give proceeds back to Water 1st. They can devote a day or week to the charity, and promote that their sales are benefiting a great cause. We just finished an event, Water 1st, Beer 2nd, and are looking to do a Give Water, Give Life event in the spring of 2013. From big auctions to small dinner parties, we look at a lot of different ways to get people involved, so stay tuned. You can help out with a event or become a member of a committee. I’m currently putting together an advisory council. The organization can provide such unique opportunities, such as traveling to the water projects. In February, I’m going to Ethiopia.”
Q: What is it like to visit the water projects?
A: “On these trips, you will go to a village where there is an existing water project and sit with the people, find out how things are going. People in the village need to take ownership of the water source, so they will have a ‘water chief’ of sorts. Many times, they are women. It also gives them the opportunity to have a leadership role in their community again without saying they have been doing this all wrong. We affirm them for continuing it, for keeping up the water supply. There is an element of maintenance, and we ask if there is anything they’d like our help with. We have water partners in different countries for these needs. The other aspect of that trip is going to a village asking for a water project and walking with them to and from their water source, carrying empty vessels, experiencing what they are going through. Some areas are really treacherous. You can see both sides on these trips, from the people that have a working water project and the people that don’t.”
Q: More and more, we’ve seen the extremely thoughtful trend of brides and grooms offering donations in lieu of favors, or requesting donations instead of gifts. Could they do so for Water 1st?
A: “Yes, absolutely. Donations can be easily coordinated. I think it’s a really admirable thing for a couple to do because it’s so selfless. If you make that choice on a day that is truly all about the couple, it’s such an amazingly selfless thing to do. Whether the bride and groom contact me or the charity in general, we can make a special link for them or coordinate mailing something in.”
Pretty amazing what clean water and sanitation can do, isn’t it? For more information on donations or getting involved, visit the website here. Are you a champion of a particular charity? Any plans to include it in your special day? We’d love to hear more.