Walk Diverse group returning from Sands BeachFourth annual Beaufort Walk for Water set for September

Each year, women and children in developing countries around the world spend millions of hours walking just to obtain water for basic needs such as cooking and cleaning.

In fact, women in African countries alone collectively spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetchingwater. Worldwide, it’s 40 billion hours per year, according to the Global Policy Forum, an independent organization that monitors policy making around the world.

But thanks to a South Carolina-based Christian organization with hundreds of volunteers right here in the Lowcountry, people around the world are getting life-saving access to clean drinking water.

Started in 1998, Water Mission employs innovative technology and engineering expertise to help communities build safe water, sanitation and hygiene solutions in developing countries and those impacted by natural disasters.

Having served over 5 million people in 56 countries, Water Mission works with church partners and volunteers across the country who raise money through projects such as community walks.

Beaufort’s own Walk for Water, started in 2017, has taken on a life of its own, said steering committee member Jeneane Ryan.

“It’s really grown,” she said.

Started by members of First Presbyterian Church, the event began after a church member heard about the life-changing work the Charleston organization was doing.

The groupset out to do something that would support their mission, but awalk wasn’t even on their radar atWalk Multi walk crowd2019 the time, Ryansaid. Church members only knew they wantedto do something that would have staying power and raise a significant amount of funds for the nonprofit’s projects.

In 2016, the group decided to reach out to other congregations in the area and by 2017, the first walk was underway.

That first effort raised about $28,000, Ryan said. But last year, the walk raised over $80,000, and had 660 walkers participate – proof that word about the event is spreading.

“It really has become a community event and an event that is just a lot of fun,” she said.

But it can also have a deeply meaningful impact on the communities the missions serve.

As Publicity Coordinator Camilla Pagliaroli explains,when a water infiltration system or similar project goes into a community, it can be a permanent and transformative, life-altering experience.

Children who have to spend countless hours collecting water can finally go to school and get an education, while women have time to work or take care of their families.

In addition, many women have to walk at night or through areas that are unsafe, Pagliaroli said.

“And that to me is heartbreaking,” she said.

For those who participate in the community walk, it can also be a deeply moving experience.

Participants walk a three-mile route, symbolizing the walk millions of women and children take every day – just to collect water. Halfway through, participants fill buckets with dirty water, then carry them back to the start.

“It makes for a physical and emotional experience,” Pagliaroli said. “It’s certainly front of mind as to why we’re doing it.” 

And even though the pandemic has changed things some what for both the walk and the work the organization does globally, safe, clean drinking water iseven more critical than it was before, both Pagliaroli and Ryan said.

Walk Drone shot Sands Beach WFW2019In fact, a recent study found that 43% of healthcare facilities in the least developed countries did not have access to hand hygiene resources, including soap and safe water, according to Water Mission. That can make it extremely difficult for hospitals and healthcare workers in affected countries to treat those with the disease.

For Ryan, who saw firsthand the effects the lack of fresh water can have on a community devastated by a natural disaster, it’s something you never forget.

“I saw people having to walk for water, people getting sick, babies dying,” said Ryan who visited Haiti just after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 hit the country. “It brings tears to your eyes. I still get teary when I think about it.”

Infant mortality is a major issue in communities without access to clean water, she said. In some communities, hospitals are overrun with people who have water borne illnesses.

Ryan has since made other trips to Haiti with members of First Presbyterian, and was happy to see on a recent trip what sites with water infiltration systems have done for communities there. 

One site in particular, serving some 2,000 people, had men, women and children pouring in to fill up jugs and containers with clean water. That experience she won’t soon forget, either.

“It’s been such a blessing to be able support Water Mission,” she said.

Want to Participate?

This year’s Walk for Water will take place at 9 a.m. Sept. 26, at Live Oaks Park in Port Royal. The registration cost is $20 for adults, $15 for ages 16-22, $5 for ages 8-15 and free for children 7 and younger and includes a walk T-shirt.

New this year due to Covid-19: The walk will adhere to social distancing guidelines in place on Sept. 26. 

For those who are unable to make the walk or who don’t feel comfortable participating but still want to fundraise and contribute, those walkers can opt for a “Virtual Walk”which can be a solo walk at a time of their choosing on a route of their choosing.

For more information or to register, visit events.watermission.org/Beaufort20or follow on Facebook or Instagram at @BeaufortWalkforWater

Above: photos from Beaufort Walk for Water 2019