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A Conversation with a Community Partner

It’s hard not to think about water here in Cleveland. To us Lake Erie is our backyard and we see it every day, but the Great Lakes contain about 90% of the United States’ freshwater supply. That’s why in advance of World Water Day (March 22nd) Greater Cleveland Aquarium General Manager Stephanie White decided to check in with our community partner, Drink Local. Drink Tap.

SW: I am here with DLDT’s Wavemaker Program Manager Kristine and with Matt, Education Coordinator at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Kristine, tell us a little bit about the mission and activities of Drink Local. Drink Tap.

KN: Sure! The mission at Drink Local. Drink Tap. is three-fold. We help to educate about the global water crisis, improve water equity for those in need, and get people engaged in helping to protect our water.

SW: What type of local and international activities do you have with your programs?

KN: Locally we have our Wavemaker Education Program where we go into schools and speak with students about the global water crisis and how they can get involved here in Northeast Ohio. On a global level, we work in Uganda bringing water and sanitation to rural, needy areas.

SW: What sparked your interest in water access?

KN: I was living and traveling throughout Asia and I saw how differently people experienced water depending on where they lived and their socioeconomic status. When I moved back to Cleveland I met Drink Local. Drink Tap. Founder & Executive Director Erin Huber Rosen in 2011 as the nonprofit was really getting off the ground and I decided to get involved and volunteer. Over the years I participated in beach cleanups and various events. Eventually I started working with the Wavemaker program and in 2019 I officially became a staff member.

SW: Over the years we’ve partnered with you for the United Nations’ World Water Day, which is part of your Wavemaker program. Tell us a little more about how you engage with students?

KN: Our program goes into schools and we speak with students directly in classrooms or during assemblies. Obviously doing everything virtually right now. We try to educate children on the global water crisis and share how people experience water so differently. You know, we’re really blessed in Northeast Ohio to have so much water here. We have our Lake Erie, we have rivers and we have plenty of rain and snowfall. That’s not how people experience water all over the world. We’re trying to raise awareness and hopefully bring some of that to their thought process on a daily basis and encourage them to get involved—to come to beach cleanups, to change their daily and to consider water as a basic necessity of life and not something we just turn on a tap and use without thinking about it at all.

SW: As you said, this time we’re all virtual, but in the past, Matt, what did World Water Day look like here at the Aquarium?

MD: World Water Day has always been one of my favorite days here on-site. In past years, hundreds of local schoolkids came to celebrate water. They did water-related activities before experiencing the exhibits and animals. I think my favorite part of the day has been the palpable energy and excitement that the students feel about water. As an educator, it was inspiring to see children getting excited about an important topic.

SW: Hopefully this year we can have that same excitement but on a virtual platform. Kristine, can you talk us through how you’re going to celebrate in 2021?

KN: We are holding a virtual event, which allows anyone to join from anywhere and we’re not limited to who can physically get to us. We’ll be offering a virtual fieldtrip for the students where we have exhibitors who are holding a booth. Students can migrate in and out of the booths and find out about the various organizations and how they pertain to water. We’ll also have a portion where Erin Huber Rosen, the Executive Director of Drink Local.Drink Tap., and I will be hold a live piece. We’ll talk about various topics and engage with participants. Then we also have a student youth activist from Uganda that we’re going to connect with and hear from, so we’re super excited about that.

SW: I know the Aquarium is part of that too. Kristine was just saying clean water is critical for all life and important for us. Matt, what’s one message that you share with your students while your educating, whether it’s on this one particular day or 365 days of the year?

MD: I like to stress that it can feel like we have unlimited water, right? Day in and day out, for most of us here in this area we can turn on the faucet and water comes out to use and drink. But less than 1% of all water on Earth is available for us to use. In terms of a global scale, there’s really not that much water left for all human beings on Earth to use and our population is still growing. It’s really important that students coming through this building start to get a sense that it is a limited resource. It is finite. You should do everything you can to make small changes in your daily life as you think about water as a resource and how you can conserve it.

SW: So then what is your favorite tip to share with your students as to how they can participate in water conservation at home?

MD: Since most of our students are younger, I try to keep it simple for them, something easy to remember. I really stress trying to drink more tap water if you can does multiple good things for our Earth. For one, it takes more water to create a plastic bottle than actual amount of water inside that bottle, which is really crazy to think about. It also takes oil to produce plastic which is giving out CO2 into the environment. And then many of these water bottles that people are buying from the store, these single-use bottles, do end up as litter, unfortunately, which can then end up in our waterways. Just trying to drink a little more tap water than you have in the past and reducing the number of single-use bottles you are buying can make a huge difference overall.

KN:  I fully agree with everything Matt said. Reducing our single-use plastics is one of the biggest and most important steps in the right direction. And I would also suggest just a change in your thought process—thinking differently about water, about how you use water and about how the things we do use water. Not only brushing our teeth or taking a shower, but the things we buy and use require water. Just thinking differently and sharing what you’ve learned with others is important. If people don’t know there’s a problem they can’t do anything to help, so spread the word.

SW: Kristine, I saw on your website that just $30 can bring safe drinking water to one person for life. If anyone wants to donate to Drink Local. Drink Tap., what would their donation do?

KN: Right now our Wavemaker program is working to fund a project for Mbaale Primary School. They are in desperate need of clean water and sanitation. There are hundreds of students, teachers and local villagers who are using a latrine that was constructed by the school head teacher and some parent volunteers and unfortunately it’s not safe. It’s falling apart. These students end up going in the bush which is highly problematic, especially for young girls. Our focus right now is funding a latrine project for that school. If we aren’t able to come up with a solution for them quite quickly the school will have to close down. That’s how severe the problem is right now. Once we can raise for that, we’re going to then switch for that same school to a borehole to bring them clean water. W

SW: Wow! So a donation really could make a difference.

KN: Oh, it makes a huge difference. Like you said, $30 can bring one Ugandan water for life. That really is completely life-changing. It allows children to go to school instead of fetching water. It keeps them safe because they’re not traveling long distances by themselves to get that water. It allows for basic dignity. Even a small donation makes a really huge difference.

SW: Thank you for joining us today, Kristine, and for the conversation. Thank you Matt for taking time out of virtual tours. I look forward to March 22nd. Happy World Water Day!

To learn more about the water equity issues and supporting the nonprofit’s projects and programming, visit drinklocaldrinktap.org.

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