Spring of life
Chico woman helps bring clean water to foreign nations
While in the shower, Shirley Adams turns off the water to shave her legs and lather her hair. She no longer leaves the faucet running when she brushes her teeth, but instead fills a glass with water in which to dip her toothbrush. And rather than driving her car for errands, she hops on her bicycle.
Sustainability has become engrained into Adams’ everyday life. However, her motivation doesn’t come from the threat of global warming or fear of depleting the ozone layer. For Adams, 64, it all comes down to one thing: water.
The bubbly and vibrant Chicoan says her recent enthusiasm to lead a sustainable lifestyle is the result of the founding of her nonprofit organization, Bridging the Gap by Giving. Charged with the goal of bringing clean water to the 1.1 billion individuals who live without it and proper sanitation worldwide, the organization truly has changed the way Adams lives her own life.
“I’ve become more green in every aspect,” she said.
An avid traveler, Adams often witnessed the less-than-adequate water situations in areas such as Africa and Central America. But it wasn’t until she hiked to the base camp of Mount Everest a little more than two years ago that she realized she needed to do something to help remedy the situation.
Walking across the seven bridges to get to the camp reminded Adams of all the people who had helped her to cross her own “bridges” in life. It was then that she decided she wanted to be a bridge-maker herself, helping people just as she had been helped, but in a way that met their basic needs. For the woman who is the former owner of North Valley Swim School, the answer was in water.
Adams says water is such a fundamental necessity, but in America, where we are blessed with the resource, we don’t realize there are places that exist without it. In some of them, women must walk three to four hours a day to bring water back to their homes, and without water there is no possibility of growing crops to sustain a family.
“Without water there is no way to thrive,” says Adams. “Just try not using it for one day.”
Affectionately called “Water Girl” by her friends and family, Adams has raised $50,000 through her organization for projects in developing nations since its inception in February 2006. The money has provided five boreholes in Uganda and 20 elephant pumps in Malawi, as well as water projects in Niger, Mali and Ghana.
Adams collaborates with organizations such as Pump Aid and World Vision, relying on them for the logistics of the projects, as well as the construction at times.
“They just are reputable organizations,” says Adams. “World Vision will go into a community that is depleted and make sure that the pump is self-supported by the people who it is for. They’ll stay for 10 years evaluating the situation.”
Bringing these people into a more sustainable environment is key for Adams, who notes that lack of sanitation and clean water accounts for 80 percent of all illnesses in developing nations. Quality of life for people who live without it is another of her concerns.
“If the women didn’t have to walk to get water, they could be running businesses. They could be growing food for their families,” Adams said.
Inspired by this notion, she is heading across the country this summer, leaving on a 2 1/2-month bicycle ride to raise money for her cause. The trip will take Adams and her husband, Grant, 3,828 miles from Florence, Ore., to Yorktown, Va.
Adams is seeking individuals and businesses to sponsor her for each mile she rides. She already has a private donor who will match the first $25,000 in funds that she earns.
In addition to the bicycle ride, she sells items such as handcrafted necklaces and purses from foreign nations out of her home. Mountain Sports, Savannah James, Chico Christian Center and Refresh also sell some items from their businesses, helping Adams earn funds for water.
“I think it’s great to have someone take initiative to find a solution,” said Jim Miller, of Chico Christian Center, who notes that the necklaces are a popular item. “It’s a great thing that she’s doing.”
Still, more than raising money for the organization, Adams hopes that through her work she will raise the consciousness of individuals.
“My desire is that people will take the challenge to go to a developing nation and see how little they have, how much we have, and how much we can share,” Adams said. “Then we truly can bridge the gap.”