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Water & Sanitation

This Man Is Raising Awareness About Canada’s Water Crisis By Walking Across The Country

Hasan Syed has raised about $21,000 for a campaign to bring clean water to Indigenous people — and he’s done it by running and walking across Canada.

Syed, an immigrant to Canada from Pakistan, is the founder of Access 2 Clean Water, a campaign he started in April to raise awareness about the clean drinking water crisis affecting the Indigenous populations.

In 2010, Syed moved to Thunder Bay to pursue his nursing degree. Working as a volunteer in the area, he was invited to a community dinner in September 2015 where the topic of Canada’s water crisis came up.

Lack of clean water has long been an issue in Indigenous communities in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made promises to lift water bans across the countries, and while there have been bans lifted, many still remain — leaving whole communities without clean drinking water.

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He said he was completely naive to the situation before then.

“Excuse me, are you sure this is in Canada?” Syed remembers asking at the dinner.

The first thing that went through his mind was a memory of his parents running between the kitchen and water cooler in their living when he was five or six living in Pakistan. He said they would boil water and strain it through a cheesecloth into the water cooler.

“You’re saying people get water like that here?” he asked the room. “I was baffled, I couldn't believe ... I was infuriated that this is happening here.”

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“We left there to come here to get a better life — and I thank God that it was given to us — but then I think that someone here right now is living in those conditions that we left,” he paused. “It doesn't make sense.”

Initially, Syed had wanted to organize a conference dinner to raise awareness, but he felt like as a national issue, a local dinner would not do the issue justice.

Syed remembered learning about Canadian icon Terry Fox when he was 10 years and newly arrived in Canada. Fox had cancer and planned to run across the country to raise funds for cancer research.

As an amputee, Fox made it through six provinces, running almost a marathon a day for 143 days, inspiring the whole country as he went, ultimately raising $24.17 million through The Marathon of Hope.

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Syed had always wanted to do something like Fox had done, but the idea had been pushed aside.

Months after the dinner, Syed knew what he wanted to do. The idea to travel across the country to raises awareness about the crisis came to Syed in January, 2016, and he hit the road in April of this year.

It seemed almost perfectly fated to Syed that he was living in Thunder Bay — Fox had stopped running just outside of the city.

Syed has now completed the first phase of his campaign, having travelled more than 5203.26 km in 193 days. The next phase will be to create an interactive website with a map that shows the existing water-boil and do-not-consume advisories across Canada. He hopes the government will use it as a tool to track progress.

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As of Sept. 30, 2017, there were 43 short-term drinking water advisories and 101 long-term drinking water advisories in 101 First Nations communities south of the 60th parallel, according to the Government of Canada.

“It’s something that’s so accessible to us, but yet there’s a community that doesn't have that,” Syed said. “It still baffles me, it still makes me mad.”

Syed will take part in a rally on Nov. 9 on Parliament Hill, which will mark the official end of the first phase of the campaign.

The Hamilton Friendship Centre and London Friendship Centre have helped secure partnerships in Ottawa leading up to the rally. There will be drumming sessions, speeches by Indigenous elders, and ceremonies. And Syed hopes the event will also spark a conversation with parliament.

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Now that he has finished the physical run, Syed is focusing on studying for his RN test and hopes to get a nursing job in Toronto.

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