In 2010, Kennesaw Mountain High School sophomore Christina Lee and her older brother, Joshua Lee, were in South America on a mission trip to Peru with First United Methodist Church when they discovered that lack of clean water was a major issue in the developing country.
“We realized that water was just a huge problem,” said 16-year-old Christina Lee. “People like to think that they get used to it and get immune to the bacteria and viruses that are in it, but they don’t, so they are sick all the time.”
Being sick all the time leads to residents missing work, not being able to take better care of their families and many deaths.
The brother and sister returned home from their trip, began researching how they could help, and eventually started the nonprofit Leave a Trace Foundation.
“We have a broad focus of trying to bring clean water to areas all over the world,” Lee said. “Essentially these people are drinking dirty water and the vast majority know it’s dirty and they know it’s making them sick, but there’s no alternative.”
And while Joshua and Christina both started the project, she has become the driving force behind Leave a Trace. Joshua studies aeronautical engineering at Georgia Tech.
“It’s just a great indication that if you turn kids loose, they can do anything,” said the children’s father, Gary Lee. “They are bright, and if you give them a problem to solve, they will take the initiative and run with it. That’s been neat to watch.”
Making a difference
That foundation has grown into an internationally recognized organization, and on Saturday, Lee and two of her classmates in Kennesaw Mountain ‘s magnet program, Julie Evans and Katie Thornburgh, will head to Chimbote, Peru, to install a water purification system at an elementary school.
“These children are walking on average an hour every single day to get to school and when they get there, they don’t have clean water to drink,” Christina Lee said.
They also plan to install water filters at the homes of their translator, coordinator and driver.
Rotary Club members in Chimbote are helping them.
“As a part of helping the people get back on their feet, we think it’s important to bring the Rotary Club into the entire process so they have a stake in it,” Christina Lee said.
The home filters cost about $100 each and the school filter, which can produce about 55 gallons of clean water per minute, costs about $1,000. All funds are raised through the foundation.
The byproduct of the machine is sodium chloride, so residents can also use the water to clean their dishes and cups.
The batteries are donated by Kennesaw-based Interstate Batteries. They use a wheelchair battery and a solar cell so that it is constantly charging. It takes one day to install the machine and a second full day to train others on how to use it.
Evans and Thornburgh have never been out of the country before, but decided to go on this particular trip after hearing about the foundation’s mission and how it can save lives.
“It’s a great opportunity to do something good, and Christina always talks about how ‘Leave a Trace’ is based off the Boy Scout saying, ‘Take only memories, leave only footsteps,’ but their idea is to leave something to help others, and I like that, and I’d like to leave a trace,” Thornburgh said.
She raised money for the week-long trip by asking family members for help.
Evans said her parents were encouraged by their daughter wanting to go on a trip like this, so they helped foot the bill.
“I feel that there are things in this world that we can easily change, and we’re not really trying too hard,” she said. “We are trying but we can try a little bit harder, so I want to do something good.”
The three girls, along with Gary Lee, will head to Peru two days after their finals next week. Travel includes an all-day flight and an all-day bus ride from Lima to Chimbote. The two cities are about 265 miles apart.
More on Leave a Trace
The foundation runs solely on donations. After learning about a needed project, they find the funding to test the water and install the filtering system.
Gary Lee said they connect with church or civic organizations and when those groups are on mission trips or visits to developing countries like Chimbote, Haiti or Africa, they ask them to test the water. If they return, they can help install the clean water systems, too.
“Our goal is to find systems that are simple because we are going to be there, train and leave,” he said. “We need to make sure that the people on the ground understand what we are giving them and it is simple for them to use.”
He said it would be hard to say how many systems have been installed since the foundation was established because they have trained so many individuals.
“For example, there is a massive project going on in Africa right now,” he said. “That’s one where we aren’t hands-on but it came out of this foundation.”
They are testing for whatever bacteria or viruses can be found but without many of these cities having toilets, they find E. Coli, or fecal matter more than anything else.
“The water table is very close to the surface so all of that fecal matter is running straight into the water supply,” Christina Lee said. “There’s plenty of water, that’s not the problem … it’s just that the water is bad.”
She said this lack of clean water kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and hunger combined.
“It’s huge!” Christina Lee said. “A lot of people don’t hear about it and don’t realize how fixable it is.”
When someone gets sick Gary Lee said medical treatment is often non-existent.
“People get used to being sick. They get used to having chronic diarrhea,” he said. “They don’t know what it’s like to feel well and they are just sick all the time.”
For more information on the organization or to make a donation, visit the nonprofit online at leaveatrace.org.