Ask any young woman in Nevada's Tule Springs Stake what difference she can make in the world with her meager resources, and she will tell you. She may live in the most brightly lit city in the world and have only a pocketful of change, but she knows exactly what to do.
Send the change to Africa.
"Our stake Young Women learned about the church's humanitarian effort in Kenya, Africa," said JoAnn Barney, stake Relief Society president of the Tule Springs Stake. "A village there was given the gift of a borehole well, so villagers would not have to walk several miles to get clean water."
Women and children spend many hours collecting water in Kenya. Often, parents must decide between sending their children to school or getting clean water for their family. The decision becomes harder when they know that nearly 80 percent of illnesses in developing countries are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions.
"Clean water doesn't just save lives, it changes them forever," said Sister Barney. "The irony is that many people without access to clean water live just a few feet above it."
Sister Barney's comments brought back a flood of memories from my two visits to Africa last year.
Access to clean water in this poor country is often limited by two challenges: the need for water pumps and the lack of money to buy, install and maintain them. In some areas, clean water may be reached with a hand-dug well that only goes down 30 feet. It other areas, the same task requires a drill rig that can drill down a few hundred feet. But there's more to the story than just water.
"The church has always been more concerned with building people than water systems," said Matthew Heaps, clean water initiative manager for LDS Charities. "Our goal in each community is for people to feel complete ownership of the well, so they will maintain it and take responsibility for their health."
Under the direction of Brother Heaps, each project begins with hygiene training and the formation of a water committee months in advance of the well digging. Should a problem arise, the community is already empowered to find a solution without reverting to getting water the way they had for generations — out of streams with questionable purity.
When the young women in Tule Springs realized what an incredible difference clean water would make in the lives of villagers in Kenya or other parts of Africa, they joined forces to see what they could do to help.
Directed by Shannon Ruesch from the stake humanitarian aid committee, the girls began raising money for wells that would bring clean water to African villages. First, a young woman and her mother from each ward showed the video "A Gift of Thanks" to ward members as part of a Young Women value project for good works. Others volunteered to save spare change and were given a glass jar with a label that read "Spare change given with great love will bless lives." An average of 30 homes in each ward in the stake signed up.
The young women left the jars with the families for three months and then collected them. Seven wards completed the project, and the girls collected more than $7,100 — enough to bring clean water to an entire African village of nearly 1,000 people!
"The generosity was overwhelming," said Sister Ruesch. "Our goal was to raise $2,000. The first ward to get started brought in $1,000, so then we got really excited! I didn't need to stop and get a Big Gulp every day; instead, I needed to help my daughter with this cause."
So, the next time you are tempted to drop that change in a drawer or dish, remember seven inspiring young women. With a little help from their moms, they significantly blessed the lives of others less fortunate — all from collecting spare change.
Howard Collett is a photojournalist for LDS Philanthropies. He documents humanitarian efforts of the church worldwide. He is one of four bloggers for Of One Heart appearing in MormonTimes.com each Wednesday.