For more than 25 days, 13 college-age individuals have been pedaling 75 to 100 miles per day so that those in developing countries don’t have to walk for miles and spend hours to collect water for the day.
The seven men and six women are the team members for Ride For Water, and their goal is to raise $100,000 through donations to the nonprofit organization charity:water before they end their 50-day, 3,220-mile ride in New York City on July 3.
The goal is to supply clean drinking water for 10 villages.
Each $30 toward that goal will provide clean drinking water for a lifetime for one person.
This is the sixth year for Ride for Water. The men and women ride in separate teams in order to raise awareness among more people and to simplify the logistics of housing and traveling with 14 people.
On Thursday night, the women rested themselves and their bicycles at Boulders Inn & Suites Majestic Hills in Denison.
As of Friday morning, the teams had completed about 55 percent of their ride and raised about 55 percent of the $100,000 needed.
The women backtracked from Denison to a point on Highway 37 north of Dunlap where they had halted their journey on Thursday night.
On Friday they continued through Dunlap and Dow City, rode past Buck Grove, jogged on Highway 59 to Highway 141, and then pedaled to near Perry where they connected with bike trails.
The women’s and men’s teams will meet up in Chicago and ride together to New York City. Up to Chicago, the men’s route parallels the women’s route but is farther north.
Each of the four bicyclists and the two vehicle drivers on the women’s team have a different reason that compelled them to give up a summer job or, for the those who have graduated from college, an entry into a career.
Jess Van Iwaarden, of Chino Hills, California, said the purpose of the ride ties into her degree in biology and her plans to go into a medical field.
“One class I took was parasitology, the study of parasites. A lot of the class involved water. One of the things that surprised me most is the diseases that could be eradicated if the water is controlled,” she said.
A parasite called Guinea worm is soon to be eradicated because the parasite’s lifecycle is starting to be controlled, Iwaarden said. The parasite’s lifecycle involves water.
“That leads me into public health and how one person can actually make a difference towards the health and wellness of others through water and through cycling across the country, to raise money for water,” Iwaarden said.
Laura Atwater, from Bakersfield, California, a driver, said she joined Ride For Water because of her passion for gender equity.
“In these developing countries, most of the time the people who are gathering water are women, and they will walk up to four hours a day carrying jerry cans that weigh 40 pounds when full,” she said.
Atwater continued that many times young girls must help carry water, and the result is many women don’t have access to adequate education.
“That doesn’t help them create business or create a substantial economic life for themselves,” she said.
The other driver, Courtney Donlon, from San Jose, California, pointed to one of the statements posted on the Ride For Water website: “The craziest thing we can do is nothing.”
Donlon said when growing up and going to church, she donated money so others could have access to clean water.
“We’re doing something a little crazy and out of the ordinary,” she said. “People ask what we’re doing after we graduated and we say hopping on a bike and riding across the country. That sparks a lot conversation. People see us in matching clothes and ask what we are doing.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a minor task,” Donlon continued. “It’s 50 days of our lives, going on the road, but I think it’s something cool we can do to bring awareness about the cause.”
For Julia Wyngant, of Longview, Washington, the compelling reason is human rights.
“A lot of conflicts in the world are mostly because of fighting over resources that aren’t typically available,” she said.
The resources can be a number of things, but many times access to water is a source of conflict, she said.
“Providing clean water to a village prevents conflict and eventually can prevent wars and other things that go along with that. Clean water is a basic human right that everyone should have,” Wyngant added.
The young women said that some people they meet are surprised to learn how much people’s lives can improve when they have ready access to clean water.
“I think we came to the realization that clean water changes everything,” said Jenna Postma, of University Place, Washington.
“There is a connection between cycling and clean water,” she continued. “It is huge to be able to engage with communities and have these incredible conversations with so many people across the country. We’re able to leverage the gravity of the global water crisis.”
All of the money donated to Ride For Water through charity: water is used to provide clean water to people. The expenses for the ride are paid for by private donors, foundations and sponsors.
Christiana Bastos, of Lake Forest, California, said the megachurch she grew up in has a mission to provide clean water to those in other countries.
“I’d always seen the problem from a distance. My junior year in college I got to go to South Africa. That was very impactful, to see the problem firsthand instead of on a screen,” she said. “It was impactful because I never exactly understood the problem until saw physically how it affected people.”
When Bastos came back from South Africa, she wanted to help provide clean water to people but felt helpless.
“I saw Ride For Water as an avenue to help, being able to sacrifice my time so people can have this basic need that we get to have every day,” she said.
People they’ve met along the route have been great, team members said, adding they feel like they’ve been living off human kindness with donations of housing and food and other items. They said they are humbled by the kindness and generosity of so many strangers that are willing to give them a place to rest their heads for the night and provide a meal. It is a lesson they said the will pass on.
People can donate to the cause by going to rideforwater.com and clicking on the “Donate” button on the upper right hand corner. That will take individuals to the charity:water website.