Walking for water, the Portland way
Author: Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: March 28, 2012

Lugging a five gallon bucket of water for three miles isn’t exactly the most desirable way to spend a sunny Saturday morning in Portland. Yet last weekend, more than 350 Portlanders did just that—joining the nearly one billion people in the world who walk an average of three miles every day to collect water.

Portland Global Initiatives held their fourth annual Walk for Water on March 24 to raise awareness about the global water crisis and raise money to support clean water projects in Kenya. The walking route began at OMSI, crossed over to the Waterfront Park, and looped back to the Eastbank Esplanade. This year, there was also a fun run, where participants followed the same path as the water walkers but without the burden of the bucket.

In the developing world, it’s mostly women and girls who make the trek to get water for their families. Here in Portland, men, women, boys, and girls attempted the feat—and with adequate difficulty.

“I can tell you, it’s really hard,” said Mark Stell, the founder of Portland Global Initiatives who lugged his own bucket. So hard, in fact, that most groups took turns carrying a shared bucket, an option not available to women and girls in Africa.

Portland State students from the Marketing for Nonprofits capstone course headed up the marketing and outreach efforts for the event. In addition to running a strong social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, the students distributed posters and fliers to over fifty local businesses, pitched an article for the Sustainable Life section of the Portland Tribune, staffed an educational outreach table on the PSU campus, and gave twenty-six presentations at local schools about world water issues and the event.   

“It has been important to market the fact that the world water crisis is a global issue and the efforts from local participants, donors, and sponsors help make a growing global impact,” said Stephanie Howe, a senior communications major and student in the capstone course.

The students also designed and ran educational kiosks at the event. From card games to beanbag tosses, the kiosks encouraged both children and adults to consider global water and poverty issues in relation to personal water use. While the typical African family uses five gallons of water a day or less, the average U.S. family uses 176 gallons or more.

The Walk for Water offered the capstone students themselves an impactful experience. “The difference we have all made working on this event has given me the motivation to keep making a difference,” Howe said.