The Unexpected Mid-Shower Epiphany That Led To WATERisLIFE's Founding

The organization works with local governments in over 40 countries.

Ken Surritte didn't realize it was a dumb question when he asked it; in fact, it's a pretty normal one to ask anywhere in the States.

"What's his name?" he said to the mother of a young boy in northern Kenya.

But when an interpreter translated the question, the mom looked confused. It was as if nobody had ever asked her that question before. Which, it turned out, was the case.

"He was not old enough to have a name yet," Surritte told A Plus over the phone. "They just called him 'boy' or 'blessing.' Chances are he won't make it. He'll die."

Later that week, Surritte was back in Nairobi, Kenya, taking a shower — one of two he used to take every day. As he waited for the shower to warm up and watched the water go down the drain, the disparity of his experiences hit him.

"Water is life here," Surritte said. "People would do anything to have the water I'm just letting go down the drain... those kinds of realities began to shift my paradigm."

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And that's what helped drive Surritte to found WATERisLIFE, an Oklahoma-based organization dedicated to building clean water, sanitation and hygiene programs all over the world. The organization digs wells, hands out water filtration straws, organizes community education programs and works with local governments in over 40 countries. 

"Today, 6,000 people are going to die because they don't have water. 5,000 of them are kids," Surritte said. "And so whatever we can do to stop that — whether that's teaming up with other groups or organizations — we're going to do."

While Surritte gets a thrill from seeing donations and grants pour into WATERisLIFE, he said there is nothing quite like actually getting someone to volunteer. No donation and no amount of reading can prepare you for the experience of working in the field, and he encourages everyone he meets to come on a trip and volunteer their time.

Next month, Surritte and a group of high school students from Portland, Oregon are going to visit Costa Rica in an effort to help address a water crisis in remote villages. There, Surritte says, children are dying because they are drinking clear water that appears clean but is actually laced with arsenic. He believes WATERisLIFE's straw filters will help, and he's not the only one: the Costa Rican government is going to take the group out on helicopters to disseminate the straws in the villages.

He needs more help, though. 663 million people don't have access to safe water, and billions more don't have the necessary sanitation or hygienic practices to avoid dangerous viruses or common diarrhea, which can be deadly in certain parts of the world. 

But Surritte is trying to change all that. 

"We think in the next few years we'll be able to solve the world water crisis with the technology we've got available to us," he said. "We are hoping to take a billion people out of the world water crisis. I've been blessed and I have a responsibility to my brother halfway around the world to get him the things he needs, and the most basic thing people need is access to clean water."

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