On Wednesday, May 17th, in Princeton, James Leitner was joined by family, friends, colleagues and other supporters from around the region to launch a 3200-mile trek from Princeton, NJ to San Francisco, CA, with 90 pounds of water in tow.
A Scotch Plains, NJ native, Leitner is not unlike many young millennials today who develop a passion for a specific hobby or cause. However, not many go through monumental feats such as what Leitner tackled. (See http://missioncleanwater.com.)
Through this journey, Leitner seeks to symbolize the millions of women and children that have to walk carrying large cans of water for several miles on a daily basis. He is also looking to raise at least $75,000* through GoFundMe.com to help the Philadelphia Serengeti Alliance, a non-profit whose mission is to build wells in various regions of Tanzania where clean water is extremely scarce. The launch took place at the WorldWater & Solar Technologies Inc. headquarters at 330 Carter Road in Princeton, NJ.
Leitner’s motivation began while he was doing research for a high school assignment. He discovered that billions of people around the world (including in parts of the US) did not have access to clean water for drinking, bathing and/or cooking. Since then, Leitner has made it his life’s mission to make others aware of this astounding statistic and to help reverse it. Now, at 23 years old, Leitner just completed his goal of walking 12 marathons in 12 months, during which he carried 45 pounds (5 gallons) of water on his head. Just a few days after crossing the finish line of his twelfth marathon in Carmel, Indiana on April 22nd, Leitner had only three weeks to physically and mentally prepare for this four-month expedition. He is carrying only a few bare essentials along with 90 pounds of water (two jerrycans) in a hand-pulled cart. The plastic jerrycans are the typical containers used by women in Africa to carry water on their heads.
Leitner estimates that he will cover about 25 miles each day over four months to complete his journey. Cities he plans to visit along his tour include Buffalo, Chicago, Denver, Des Moines, Denver, Salt Lake City as well as Flint, MI where clean water is also known to be problematic. He will finish at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, with WorldWater & Solar as one of the entities to welcome him at the finish line. Because WorldWater has been building patented solar-powered units to provide clean water to villages throughout Africa, including Tanzania, as well as in developing, war-torn and natural disaster-ridden countries around the world for over 30 years, Leitner found it fitting to have his send-off at their location.
Through this tremendous endeavor, Leitner also wants to raise awareness of how providing access to clean water can improve the lives of women and children on many levels. The onus is typically placed on young women and children to scavenge for clean water, often several miles from their homes on a daily basis. These long treks not only take up most of their days but carrying such heavy weights on their heads damages them physically. They also place these women in danger of being attacked by men or wild animals and deprives them of the time and energy they could be using towards helping provide more for their families, contributing more to their communities or educating themselves. The water they gather from the rivers, streams and ponds are generally filled with dangerous microorganisms, so there is a severe health risk as well.
Margareth Awiti, the Founder of the Philadelphia-Serengeti Alliance, is originally from Tanzania and knows first-hand how desperately the villages in her home country need access to clean water. Awiti said, “I thank God everyday for James Leitner. It’s amazing that such a young man can dedicate himself to helping my home country of Tanzania have access to clean water. It’s a dream come true to have someone give so much of himself to help others.”
Quentin T. Kelly, Chairman and CEO of WorldWater & Solar, said of Leitner, “It is truly rare for such a young man to comprehend a problem that oppresses millions, mainly women and children, living thousands of miles away on another continent – and doing something about it! James is personally stepping up to shine a spotlight on this problem as well as clean water threats all over, including the US. We at WorldWater are proud to associate our company with his very brave feat–demonstrating the urgency of these threats by walking across the American continent, physically hauling 90 pounds of water all the way. Those who see him on his walk should cheer him – and contribute to his effort.”
In a recent interview, Leitner explained, “Many people take water for granted, it’s usually just a few steps away… the reality [of carrying many pounds of water for long hours] definitely puts things in perspective.”
* Originally published with earlier $15,000 goal.