Thirst Project helps global water crisis

“Think about a cold glass of water on a hot day. To many of us, water is something that we take for granted. However, some people in this world are not as lucky,” Seth Maxwell, CEO and Founder of The Thirst Project, said to University of Indianapolis students.

The Thirst Project’s goal is to raise awareness about the global water crisis and how young people can help make a change. Maxwell runs the nonprofit organization that has helped bring permanent water wells to developing countries that are in need, such as Kenya, Columbia, Uganda and many others.  The idea for the project was something that happened to fall into Maxwell’s lap. According to the Thirst Project website, Maxwell had coffee with a friend who was a photojournalist and had spent the last year traveling the world.

“Seeing these photos and hearing about the global water crisis was the first time I had heard of this issue,” Maxwell said.

After the conversation,  Maxwell went to go see the Michael Caton-Jones film “Beyond the Gates.”

CEO and Founder of The Thirst Project Seth Maxwell speaks to students on Friday, April 15. Photo by Kaley Gatto
CEO and Founder of The Thirst Project Seth Maxwell speaks to students on Friday, April 15. Photo by Kaley Gatto

“[The film] was about the 1994 Rwanda genocide. But it also showed the aftermath and how people struggled to rebuild, also how in communities and rural places, the impact that having safe water, safe sanitation, good hygiene and food security [has],” Maxwell said. “So that was a pretty significant 48-hour period of talking to my friend and going to the movie that really, for the first time, pointed my thoughts and directions to service in that way.”

According to the Thirst Project website, from this moment, Maxwell and his friends bought about a thousand bottles of water and set off on Hollywood Boulevard. They spent hours out on the streets just raising awareness about the water crisis, and by the end of the night, the students had turned $70 into $1,700. From there, the Thirst Project was born.

Maxwell also believes how he was raised has influenced how he runs his organization.

“I remember being a little kid and driving my bike under bridges with friends. And as a child, [that] was such an amazing part of growing up,” Maxwell said. “That fostered tons of creativity, and I was always imagining things and working with my friends to build forts or [go on] adventures.”

Now in charge of a small,  full-time staff and running a nonprofit organization, Maxwell is surprised by the success of the organization.

“I never thought it would be this big. The goal was to tell some people and raise awareness. We were a group of college kids,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell and his small team travel across the United States to high schools and colleges to speak to young people about the global water crisis and how they can be the generation to end it.

“I have an acting degree,” Maxwell said. “I never thought I would end up being the person I am today.”

Maxwell not only activates younger people, he also said he has had some special opportunities because of the Thirst Project.

“I had moderated a panel two weeks ago with President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton on mentorship and activating young people for social change. I went to the White House a few years ago and met with a few officials in Obama’s cabinet on education and spent a day brainstorming on how to activate young people for social change,” he said. “I am a speaker for the State Department, and I represent the United States abroad on a field of topics ranging from activating young people for social change, to community development to the global water crisis.”

Maxwell spoke to students at the University of Indianapolis on April 15. His presentation was about the Thirst Project but also about love and how using love as an action can have a significant impact.  During Maxwell’s presentation, Assistant Director of Financial Services, Manufacturing and Logistics and Entrepreneurship Kirk Bryans presented Maxwell with the Distinguished Hoosier Award.

According to The Thirst Project website, since the day at Hollywood Boulevard seven years ago, he has since raised $8 million in donations and provided more than 280,000 people with safe, clean water.

Having yearly galas with actors and actresses such as Jennifer Gardner, Chyler Leigh from “Grey’s Anatomy,” Heather Morris from “Glee” and Pauley Perrette from “NCIS,” has also helped the cause gain attention. Additional information on the Thirst Project is available at www.thirstproject.org.