by kendra patton
Walking 4 miles a day to retrieve fresh drinking water is a notion that is difficult to grasp if you are only reading about it. When you experience carrying 5 gallons of water 4 miles, it creates a much deeper impression. There are communities in Panama who don’t have access to clean drinking water and to get access in their villages is an expensive endeavor. My good friend, Hannah Vestal, is committed to raising $7,500 to purchase a windmill aqueduct for Solea’s Water for Panama. I recently took part in her Billiken for Clean Water campaign. I had an opportunity to help with the campaign while changing my life in the process.
Hannah inspired me through her motivation and desire to take on such an extensive project. Her strong commitment is most evident through her “Jerry Carry” effort. I would see her day after day carrying her yellow jerry jug around with her everywhere she went, and I just knew I wanted to help out. I started by personally donating, but that wasn’t enough for me. Since I am a college student, I really could not give as much as I wanted. I talked to Hannah about getting involved in the “Jerry Carry,” and volunteered to carry the jerry jug at home over our winter break. I did not realize carrying a jug around with me would draw so much attention and how much the task would impact me.
The first and most obvious observation I made about carrying the jerry jug were the different looks people gave me. At first I was very uncomfortable with all the looks, but eventually I decided to use them to my advantage. It was an excellent conversation starter that, at the very least, brought about awareness to the campaign. I learned some people thought it was really neat, and some people were just confused about why I would carry the jug with me. I used both of the responses to motivate me to continue carrying the jerry jug.
The people I ran into either applauded me for the advocacy effort or told me I should be careful because the jug had “fuel” embossed on the side. I learned to label the jug a little better after that. The priest at my local church was one of the people who started asking me about the campaign and truly appreciated my efforts. He was generous enough to donate $20 to the campaign!
I soon learned money was only a small part of the campaign. My family took a trip up to Door County, Wisconsin for a few days, and I was really excited to take the jerry jug with me hiking through the woods! I ended up walking 6 miles with the jerry and finally understood what many people endure everyday to find clean drinking water for their families. After the hike, I felt like there was no stopping me now... at least that was until airport security.
I had such a wonderful experience over break carrying the jerry to Starbucks, Target, church, and on hikes. Even while waiting in the airport the campaign continued as my friend’s dad donated $20 to the jug. Then came airport security. I had very little trouble on the way home, besides a little joking from the flight attendant about the jug, so I figured this time would be a similar outcome.. I put the jug on the conveyer belt and the security officer started asking me questions about the jug. He was not very receptive to the campaign. At first I thought he was joking with me, but soon realized he was serious with his negative comments, and it really put me in a somber mood. Eventually, I boarded the plane and was finding a place for the jug, when Pamela started asking me about the jug. Pamela was a flight attendant, so I figured I would get a similar response like I received from the security officer in the airport. However, Pamela’s response was not the same by any means.
I started sharing my story and information about the campaign, and she was very interested. She then proceeded to tell my friend, Kelsey, and me about a neighbor from back home who gave money to build wells in Africa. We all had a nice talk about how much we can all do to help. She even said she felt bad because she “Drank too much water today.” She then came back with $10 of her own money to add to the jug! I was so so happy. Pamela mentioned asking the pilots if she could walk up and down the aisle with the jug. Even though they said,” No,” because of policy, I was still so delighted with the effort Pamela had made.
When we were about to land, Pamela came to where I was sitting and asked for the jug. She took the jug and went to the front of the plane. Then, her voice came over the loudspeaker and announced to the whole plane that I was working on this campaign, and she encouraged everyone to donate to the jug as they exited the plane. I couldn’t believe it! Pamela was going above and beyond to help out. As people exited the plane, I stood by the jug and watched person after person donate to the jug. The pilots even gave me money! The people of Southwest Flight 3311 collected $60 that day to help Solea’s Water for Panama campaign. To say I was happy would be an understatement. Pamela’s kind words and actions reminded me that small acts of kindness go a long way. As I handed over my jug to the next person willing to take on the “Jerry Carry,” I smiled to myself remembering my wonderful experience.