Walk rallies hundreds to clean water cause

About 200 people from across different faith communities and Greater Nashua came out to support the second annual Water Walk hosted by the Thank You Project Saturday morning at Greeley Park.

"I’m really overwhelmed by the tone of the morning," said Charles Uwakwe Okorie, founder of the Thank You Project. Okorie, an immigrant from Nigeria, started the organization to address the lack of clean drinking water available for families in villages of Nigeria.

"We have a need to take care of, this is very urgent," Okorie said, addressing the crowd of participants before the start of the walk. "This has nothing to do with religion; this has absolutely nothing to do with politics. I have religious leaders here – Christians, Muslims, Hindus – everyone needs to drink clean water. We’re talking about humanity."

The nonprofit hopes to raise enough money to provide clean drinking water for thousands in Nigeria by establishing boreholes, or self-sustaining well and water pump systems, and the Water Walk represents their biggest fundraiser.

"We can’t stand idly by and watch our brothers and sisters die. We are called to do something right now, especially for the kids," he said.

Participants raised money from donors, pledging to perform the Water Walk, which comprised a two-mile round trip walk from Greeley Park to the Nashua River, complete with a bright orange Home Depot bucket or hollowed-out gourd. Walkers filled their buckets and gourds in the river, and walked the water back to Greeley to represent the daily tasks families in Nigeria must face to get water.

The Thank You Project hopes to begin their mission to the Ututu and Achi communities in Nigeria. Through installing the boreholes, women and children of the villages will no longer have to walk 10 miles round trip every day to collect water that is often not clean enough for drinking.

Within the past year, the Thank You Project has reached out to local tribal chiefs for the drilling, building and sustainable maintenance of the boreholes and wells. They have also been growing their boards and committees through adding members and expanding their national and international outreach.

In a previous Telegraph report, Matt Van Wagner, treasurer and co-founder of Thank You Project, said ground water is available in Nigeria, they just have to reach it.

"Nigeria has some of the best underground water on the entire planet earth," he said.

Leslie Van Wagner, secretary of Thank You Project and Water Walk coordinator, said the second event came together well.

"Each year it gets a little easier; we got a good team of people, and we have more faith communities involved this year. The word has spread amongst the different communities in Nashua," Van Wagner said. Aside from the roughly 200 participants who came out for the walk, she said many more pledged donations.

Last year, the Thank You Project launched its first Water Walk, raising $8,000 total, and included more than 200 hundred supporters from 21 local Nashua area towns and cities, 11 states, and from countries as far as France. The Thank You Project also hopes to raise scholarship funds for children unable to pay University fees within the villages.

This year, the Reverend Andrew Armstrong from the First Church of Nashua greeted the crowd, and led everyone in a prayer. Mayor Jim Donchess thanked Okorie for bringing the city’s attention to the cause.

"I’m so happy it’ not raining or 100 degrees out," said Van Wagner, adding they hope to continue the walk in future years.

"It’s going to be out annual event, we’re going to keep it going. We’re getting close to funding our first borehole in Ututu," she said, and thanked the event supporters and donors. "We’re happy so many people came out to support us, and it’s a very important cause. (The walkers) are going to be tired from carrying that water for a mile, but the women and children in Nigeria do that every day, and what they are bringing back may not be clean water."

Van Wagner said their goal is clear and attainable, "Building a borehole is something we can do to impact 3,000-4,000 lives," she said.

Although a final total is still being tallied, organizers raised at least $12,000 this year.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402, tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_TinaF.