Katherine and Isabelle Adams are on a spirited mission to use folded paper to bring clean water to the masses.
At just 9 and 11 years old, the girls are already co-presidents of their own non-profit, Paper for Water, which raises money to drill wells in third-world countries that bring easier access to clean water. As a thank you to those who donate, the girls make intricate paper ornaments, which they also sell on Paper for Water’s website.
The girls fly around the world, meet inspiring people, and see firsthand how many lives they’re saving. But before they can reach the world’s some 783 million people who lack access to clean water, first they must fold.
Thousands of sheets of brightly coloured origami paper go into making the origami art. The ornaments range from simple boxes that use six sheets of paper and cost $US10 apiece, to 30-sheet ornaments costing $US100. Each ornament receives a decorative tassle and a string for hanging.
Katherine and Isabelle may be the originators, but Paper for Water has become a family affair.
“This has consumed our house,” says Ken Adams, the girls’ father and Paper for Water’s vice president.
The family eats dinner on a card table because the dining room table, despite seating 12, is awash in ornament-making equipment. The girls’ mother, Deborah Adams, serves as the company’s project coordinator and has stacks of correspondence letters from rotary clubs and lions clubs requesting the girls come speak.
The family has seen many late nights, but as any mission-driven kid will tell you, it’s all worth it.
“These people don’t have the money or resources to fly to the United States or around the world and help educate people about the world water crisis,” Katherine and Isabelle told Tech Insider via email. “That’s what we want to do.”
Paper for Water began three years ago, improbably, in a Starbucks. A family friend and store manager encouraged the girls to sell their paper ornaments to passersby. They had just learned that young girls all over the world — girls just like them — would walk several miles each day to reach the nearest well. Many suffered nasty diseases and risked death just from drinking the unclean water in nearby rivers and streams.
Katherine and Isabelle learned the cost of drilling one well in Ethiopia was $US9,200. On their first night selling in Starbucks, they sold out of their ornaments, raking in close to $US1,000. Later that night, Ken sat down with his daughters to give them a crash course in supply and demand.
“They did this cute little crayon graph on the number of ornaments sold versus the price,” he says.
The meeting spurred four more price increases over the next four weeks. By the two-month mark, the girls had sold more than $US10,000 in ornaments, which overfunded their first well and convinced them they needed to fund a second.
Fast forward to 2015. Paper for Water has sold more than $US650,000 in ornaments that have funded the drilling of 70 wells in Africa, India, Peru, Mexico, and even the US.
Earlier this year, Paper for Water visited a Navajo reservation in New Mexico in partnership with DIGDEEP. There they learned that roughly 1% of the US population, or more than 3 million people, still lack access to clean drinking water. DIGDEEP is currently drilling wells in the area.
“We’ve been to a number of third-world countries,” Ken says, “and it was just shocking to see here in the United States we have similar environments.”
The company has been on dozens of these visits, spending a day here or a weekend there. For all the eye-opening that goes on, however, Ken says the family has felt for a while that to make a real impact, it has to tear up its Dallas, Texas, roots.
Which is why in 2017 the Adams family will leave their home and Isabelle and Katherine will begin taking classes remotely, so that Paper for Water can dedicate an entire year to drilling wells all over the world. Under the family’s pact, if one person still wants to go on, the whole company goes on. But if they all want out, it’s over.
In the meantime, Katherine and Isabelle are still looking forward to several hydrating years ahead.
“Our biggest successes have come because of doing a little bit of work each day,” they say. “Start small if you need to, but stick to it and it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
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