It was during July of 2010 when I found myself running and playing with dozens of orphaned children just outside of Port Au Prince. Just six months earlier, Haiti had faced one of the world's most catastrophic earthquakes. I found that one of the children seemed quite fond of me, and I of her. Her name was Gwen, and the other children called her "Baby Gwen." Just two years old, Baby Gwen was the only child at the orphanage who technically was not an orphan. Long before the disaster of January 12th, Baby Gwen and her mother, Grace, came to the orphanage for reasons other than most: lack of water.
In Haiti, 3.5 million people lack access to safe water. For most families, it is the responsibility of the women and children to find and collect it. Haiti is not unique in this tradition: Women and children from around the world collectively spend 140 million hours walking more than three miles to collect water each day.
When Grace was 12 years old, she contributed to those millions of hours spent collecting water. One day while walking to fill vessels for her family, she fell victim to one of the many dangers women and girls face while making their way to nearby rivers or ponds. Grace was attacked and raped. The result -- Baby Gwen. It was up to Grace, still a child herself, to raise a child of her own, on her own. The orphanage became a safe haven for Grace and her baby.
This young mother's story is difficult to fathom but is, unfortunately, not unique. Worldwide, more than 750 million people lack access to safe water. In my work at Water.org, I am responsible for sharing the stories and successes of our work. I am thankful to have the role as a voice for those 750 million people. I have had the privilege of sharing the stories of lives transformed, saved and improved through access to safe water and sanitation. In each, there is a resounding theme where a woman shares how her life has changed, always starting her story with "Now I can..."
Perhaps if Grace had lived in a home with access to safe water, her life would have been different. Like Atseda from Ethiopia, who now attends school after her village installed a hand pump. Or Harati's daughter, whose in-home tap and toilet have allowed her to help out in her family's snack shop. Or, perhaps most importantly, Grace could have continued to play and enjoy her childhood -- just like Poppy's kids in Bangladesh, who -- thanks to safe water at home -- now enjoy a life Poppy never knew: a life unburdened by the water crisis.
Each of us can help make every day Water Day for families, women and girls like Grace. They deserve to start their story with "Now I can..." and go on to enjoy a life transformed by access to safe water. There are several ways you can help make this possible.
Join Water.org and Johnson & Johnson on March 22nd for World Water Day and donate a photo through the Donate a Photo app. Johnson & Johnson will donate $1* for every photo donated to help bring safe water to those who need it most.
I hope you will join us. Together we can make every day Water Day for someone in need.
*Johnson & Johnson has curated a list of trusted causes, and you can donate a photo to one cause, once a day. Each cause will appear in the app until it reaches its goal, or the donation period ends. If the goal isn't reached, the cause will still get a minimum donation.
Editor's Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of The Huffington Post's Global Motherhood section.
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