I’m happy to share with you an incredibly special project we just completed on the Lakota Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. However, i would first like to sincerely thank the gracious students, teachers and parents of The Willows Community School in Culver City, California for conducting a Read-A-Thon benefiting W4W and raising the funds to cover the costs of the first phase of Project Pine Ridge.
I went out there to meet with Amelia’s friends (Alex & Deb White Plume and Tom & Loretta Cook), I knew that it was a very significant opportunity… one that I had to treat with utmost humility and candidness, no matter what I was about to learn. After explaining to them what we do around the world… and thoroughly hearing about their situation, I was very clear in saying that I wasn’t sure if we could help them. I was NOT going to be another guy that comes along making promises that he can’t keep.
Basically, the filter systems we use around the world are primarily for biological contaminants and will not remove uranium, arsenic, etc… There are ways to remove uranium from the water but it is a complex process at an unrealistic price. The only thing I could think of with was to try to create an entirely new source, bypassing ground water all together. So from a page straight out of my Dad’s playbook, the solution of harvesting rainwater came through… He has designed & installed many rain-catchment systems in Africa over the last decade. Everything actually started with that – W4W was inspired by (and essentially born from) his work doing these rain-catchment systems over the years. So, to come full circle and talk about doing a rain-water project, in my own country no-less, was incredibly special.
Laying out water tank foundation at Cook site
There are many reasons why I feel this project is significant … some are obvious, like simply providing clean water to people in need. But then there’s the deeper layers, such as the symbolism of two groups (often at odds) coming together for the greater good. Or the empowerment the Lakota will feel from doing something that speaks directly to what their belief system was founded on – nature and mother earth. And lastly, for us (W4W), to successfully implement a solution that is more or less illegal everywhere else in our country. Yes you heard me – catching rain water for drinking purposes is illegal (or ridiculously hard to get approved) in most states across the US. As a matter of fact, the week we were on Pine Ridge a man was arrested in Oregon for doing just that (see story here – http://now.msn.com/oregon-man-jailed-for-collecting-rainwater ). It’s all just baffling to me… but again, back to the significance of this project – the Lakota reservation is a sovereign nation, which allows us more freedom to do something like this.
The system is very simple in it’s design. All one needs to catch rainwater is surface area. So following the model that my Dad came up with for all the villages he’s helped in Africa, the concept is to use what’s already there. We use the roof of their house as the rain-catcher – then install rain gutters… then build a foundation on one side of the house, install a thousand gallon gal tank… and then feed the rain gutters into the tank with PVC piping. All we’re doing is KEEPING the rain that hits their roof instead of trying to get rid of it, like most traditional housing design does.
I often feel like there are bigger hands at play when I’m doing this work and usually, during a project, very clear validations keep showing up to support that feeling… to confirm all the many choices I’ve had to make over the course of an entire project – ultimately, affirming that we are on the right path and to keep pushing forward.
Example: a few days prior to our trip the current edition of National Geographic Magazine came out and the cover story is about Pine Ridge. Not only is it about the EXACT area on the Rez that we are working but it features Alex and Deb White Plume, our partners for this project.
These types of magazine features are carefully constructed over a very long period of time and I, too, have been developing our project for almost a year. I had no idea about their story and they knew nothing about ours – so for both of them to come to life in the same week is remarkable to me.
View Nat Geo article below: CLICK TO VIEW
It’s an incredible article that provides a sobering look into this community and the many challenges they face. It goes back to what I said earlier about the majority of us never knowing just how tough some conditions are right here in our own country. Well Nat Geo has brought this topic to center stage and I think a lot of people are now going to take a long hard look at it. I’m inspired to shed light on a world that has been overlooked too many times, for too many years. A reality with serious needs… can only be met once those needs are known. That said, I am excited that W4W can play a part in the solution.
I have always looked at W4W as a catalyst, of sorts. Yes, we implement large scale programs across the world … which have an undeniable impact … but, beyond the obvious aspect of what we do, I’m aware of a deeper purpose. I see it like this – there are negative patterns that have built up over time in these places … as a result there’s a perpetual state of need that keeps feeding itself. But then something comes along that interrupts that pattern, shifting the energy – a catalyst. The trigger from this occurrence is often just the spark needed to steer things in a new direction – a better possible future.
I have seen it with my own eyes – a simple act, such as giving someone clean water, can (and does) change the course of their overall future. It causes a ripple effect that kick-starts change in many other aspects of their lives. When a village in Indonesia, Africa, or India spends half a day fetching water and the other half gathering firewood so they can boil that water – they’re left with no time for anything else. It’s just pure survival. But, providing an easy way to clean that water, eliminating the need to boil it, half of the their day is freed up to do other things – work on crafts, go to school, etc. Basically, each small act leads to large scale change. We expect this to be the case for our Pine Ridge project…
We also hope that America will uphold it’s treaties and the Black Hills will be returned to their rightful owners, the Lakota. Through our actions we make this stand: Uranium mines must be shut down and absentee mining companies held accountable for the damage they’ve done…
Before & After – White Plume site
Lastly, I hope that one day reservations across America will all exercise their right to catch the rain that falls from the sky…
PS – I’d like to throw out another BIG thank you to Amelia Barlow for helping to make this project a reality.