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US Woman Treks Across Africa for Clean Water

In January, Russell will embark on a 12,000-kilometer, two-year trek across Africa in an effort to raise money to help provide clean drinking water for people in underdeveloped countries.

Amy Russell hopes her 12,000-kilometer walk will raise money and awareness

Every day, in rural areas across Africa, millions of women and girls walk for hours to fetch water. An American woman is also walking for the same reason.

Amy Russell hopes her 12,000-kilometer, two-year long trek across Africa will raise money for and awareness of the need for clean water.

So far she's walked across the northeastern U.S. state of Connecticut and plans to tread across 800 kilometers in California.

Russell is getting in shape for an even longer walk - her African trek.

Walking for water

“We’ll be going through seven different countries," says Russell. "South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.”

Amy Russell
Amy Russell

Three years ago, while still in college, the 22-year-old founded the non-profit, Walk4Water. Russell says she realized that in order to tackle the big social causes of the day such as poverty, she'd have to get to the root of the issue.

"When I studied poverty a little more, I realized that clean water is just at the base and the root of all that," she says. "You can’t really have the rest of the development process of sanitation, education, all those types of things without having the basic necessity of clean water.”

That’s how the idea of walking across Africa was born. Russell plans to start in January, accompanied by volunteers from the U.S. and the African countries she’s walking through. The team hopes to walk for about eight hours a day to raise $8 million for wells, filtration systems and other water-related projects in underdeveloped countries.

There'll be other activities along the way as well.

“Some of the places we’re stopping at include orphanages, organizations that concentrate on sanitation, AIDS," Russell says. "We’re also going to have a nurse with us. So, we’re trying to set up some medical clinics as we go.”

Expanding access to drinking water

Steve Werner is spokesman for WASH Advocacy Initiative- another group working to expand access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

“I think Amy and other people like her are heroes because they not only have seen the problem, they are taking action,” Werner says.

He hopes that will compell others into action as well.

"The more people who know that this is a problem, they will demand that this become a more important issue in our foreign aid priorities, for companies when they are making decisions about their international philanthropy, other significant donors will learn more about the issue when they read stories about what Amy’s doing.”

Achievable goal

Each year, dozens of people join the Healing Hands International Walk for Water in Nashville, Tennessee, to raise money and awareness about the need for clean water.
Each year, dozens of people join the Healing Hands International Walk for Water in Nashville, Tennessee, to raise money and awareness about the need for clean water.

Elisa Van Dyke is also impressed by Amy's mission. It's something Van Dyke is very familiar with. She's helped organize annual water walks for Healing Hands International in Nashville, Tennessee, for the past five years.

Those walks, and others around the country, raise money to fund the group’s clean water projects.

“We have drilled close to 500 clean water wells throughout Africa and a few in Central America," she says. "So when we are able to put a well in a community that’s just right outside their homes or right there in the middle of their village, girls don’t have to spend a lot of their day collecting water. It can become a brief morning task or an afternoon task and then they can go on to school.”

Providing universal access to clean water is an achievable goal. The first step, Van Dyke says, is raising awareness about it, and that’s why Russell’s upcoming walk across Africa is important.

“I think what Amy is doing is huge because with the Internet, and with the communication that we have now, with her blogging, with things like Facebook and You Tube, we can show people firsthand what people experience in daily life," Van Dyke says. "And so the more people that are exposed, the more people that are educated about the problem, then the more people will want to get involved.”

Werner, of WASH Advocacy Initiative, hopes Russell’s walk motivates officials in developing countries to take action to help their people.

“This isn’t an issue where solutions have to come from developed countries, it’s also a problem in the developing countries that their governments don’t make water a higher priority," says Werner. "So as Amy's walking across Africa, I hope government leaders also realize that there is a big water problem in their countries and that their government should be making this a higher priority.”

You can follow Amy Russell’s walk - when it starts in January in Capetown, South Africa - by visiting her website,

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    Faiza Elmasry

    Faiza Elmasry writes stories about life in America. She wrote for several newspapers and magazines in the Middle East, covering current affairs, art, family and women issues.  Faiza joined VOA after working in broadcasting in Cairo for the Egyptian Radio and Television Corporation and in Tokyo for Radio Japan.