Can you imagine not having running water in your home? How would you and your family drink, cook, bathe, or go to the bathroom? Sadly, more than a billion people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water. In addition, about 2.5 billion people live without proper sanitation systems like toilets. Most Americans probably think these kinds of water issues happen only in poorer parts of the world. That's what Glenn Farley thought too. He was one of ten UU young adults who went on a "Water Justice Tour" in California to learn more about water problems and what could be done to help make things better.
Glenn grew up UU in the Cedar Lane congregation in suburban Maryland. Then, he went to Starr King School for the Ministry. He said "I am embarrassed to say it now, but before these trips, I thought problems with access to safe and affordable drinking water only happened in so-called third world countries. I did not know thousands of Americans don't have access to safe drinking water. I know better now."
On the trip, participants discovered many things about water, including how to conserve this precious resource and how to more evenly distribute it.
In Long Beach, California, the group saw wetlands. A wetland is an area where water covers the soil for all or part of the year. It is very important for people to protect wetlands because they help the environment with things like water purification and flood control. Furthermore, wetlands are biologically diverse and are home to a broad range of plant and animal life.
Then group visited Yosemite National Park, where they saw a valley that was flooded, on purpose, in the 1920s to create a lake. The purpose of this project was to provide water to the people of San Francisco. Another stop on the tour was the San Joaquin Valley, located in the center of California. Unfortunately, water in this area contains a lot of pollution due to people overfarming the land. This is very big problem for the water supply of those who live in this region.
The young adults on the tour also got to enjoy the beauty of water while rafting on the Kern River and canoeing on Mono Lake. At the end of the trip, the group led a worship service about water at the Emerson UU Church in Canoga Park, California.
Throughout the tour, participants spoke with community leaders who are working hard to help improve various water issues. These inspiring discussions, and the trip as a whole, had a big impact on everyone who took part. But learning about the issues and gathering information is only the first step. There's a saying that "knowledge is power," and the power comes from what you DO with your knowledge. The young adults all planned to bring what they learned on the water tour back to their communities, to help others learn about water concerns and inspire people to work together for change.
Lauren Eaton, who grew up at a UU congregation and served a small congregation as a religious coordinator, said the Water Justice Tour was "epic." She added, "It made me a different person. I knew something about water before, because my father directs a water quality lab, but this trip took things to a whole different level. Up and down the state we talked to community leaders who are working hard on water issues. This all fits with our First Principle [the inherent worth and dignity of every person], for everyone to have clean water. And the Seventh [respect for the interdependent web of all existence]. Water is part of the web of all existence."
Lauren was so inspired by the tour that she participated in another tour a year later. While earning her Master's degree in Social Work, she talked to her friends and fellow students about water issues and also led a water justice workshop at a UU young adult camp at DeBenneville Pines. She and other water tour participants have been working with the UU Legislative Ministry on a Human Right to Water bill, which was defeated the first time around. But the "spiritual activists" in the UULM did not give up; they created five smaller bills covering the same issues and, as of Fall 2011, four of the five have passed in California.
Sierra Sukalski, another participant, planned to study environmental science in college. After the trip she said, "Water has become a much larger issue to me. Now I'm interested in how we build houses so that they fit the environment. I'd like to eventually help people find ways to live more sustainably."
"A lot of what I saw surprised me," she added. "We seem to be just starting to implement what we know about how to capture storm water runoff, for example. And there are so many things we could do to conserve water, including xeriscape plantings. If everyone does them they're not small things".
Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai once said "It's the little things citizens do. That's what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees."
Small things... little things... They add up to change the world. What things will you do?