When we started Wheels4Water 4 years ago in 2014, we had a lofty goal, a goal that felt so large as to initially tell ourselves it was not possible: to raise $40,000 for clean water resources and education in developing countries through LifeWater International– by merely riding our bicycles.
It truly started in 2007, when I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to photograph the efforts of an NGO and I saw the poverty of the slums– the stench of trash throughout the city, rain coming down from the sky so heavy the dirt roads between the huts became streams of mud, children without any access to sanitation nor any way out of their situation. This assault to my senses and my emotions quickly produced in me a fierce desire to end this pain and lack of a basic concern we in America have come so accustomed to that even our worst-off take for granted. So I helped start Wheels4Water, where I and some of my best friends, also deeply concerned with poverty and clean water access, ride our bicycles across vast portions of the country as audiences nationwide pledge money per mile we ride. We saw this as the greatest union we could produce between our favorite activity and our deepest worldwide concern, and after only one year of pledges, that $40,000 goal was decimated.
Decimated might even be too soft of a word. We raised over $106,000 by year’s end through our ride from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Michigan. The goal was destroyed/obliterated/squashed/Death Star-ed/all of the above. Partnering with LifeWater, an ethical and accountable non-profit whose sole purpose is to do the work we are passionate about, we channeled our pledges toward solutions for the world’s water crisis. Through LifeWater, one life can be given clean water access for life, for what strikes me as an insanely low $40, so our $106,000 supplied the clean water resources for 2,650 lives.
Over the course of the next two years we raised another $130,000 in similar trips across the continental United States, giving clean water resources to children in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
While those three years were full of joy, hope, and clean water, knowing what we know now makes it all just seem like a prelude to what was to come, the footnote of a larger body of work that will continue to help children around the world. This year, through what was our largest bicycle ride and our largest goal we have ever set, we rode our bicycles across the entire continent of North America, from San Diego to Jacksonville, to raise over $200,000 for children in the DROC and Uganda.
In the region our funds benefitted, mainly in the Kaliro district of Uganda and similar densely populated parts of the DROC, 71% of its inhabitants live without access to sanitation. Our goal would allow us to give over 10,000 people access to clean water for life. I am excited and proud to say that, for the fourth year in a row, we met and exceeded our goal.
Looking back on that first goal in 2014 feels so meager and so long ago, but being able to track the years in lives benefitted and money raised for clean water resources makes the retrospective worth it, and excites me for the future of Wheels4Water, as I know, without a doubt, that we will affect many more lives with the hope and joy of clean water.