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Water & Sanitation

These Tweens Used Origami to Raise Millions for Global Water Access


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Approximately 844 million people around the world lack access to clean water. Not only can this can lead to diseases, but a lack of access to water also disproportionately affects young girls who often have to miss school in order to carry water for miles. Katherine and Isabelle Adams prove that regardless of age, anyone can improve their community. You can help by taking action here.

In another reminder that advocacy knows no age limit, sisters Isabelle and Katherine Adams’ love of origami pushed them to start a nonprofit that helps thousands of people access clean water around the world — before they even started middle school.

Seven years ago, the Adams sisters founded Paper for Water, which sells homemade, ornate origami ornaments to raise funds for wells around the world. At the time, Isabelle was just 8 years old and Katherine was only 5, D magazine reports

Paper for Water has generated more than $1.5 million over seven years — enough money to build wells in Africa, Mexico, Peru, and India. 

Take Action: Share The Story Of How Clean Drinking Water Changed the Lives of 3 Women in Northern Ghana

The siblings' passion for origami began when their dad showed them intricate folding methods. However, when a friend informed them that girls in low-income countries often can’t go to school because they are carrying water all day due to a lack of resources, the sisters knew they had to help.

“She talked about how a child dies every 15 seconds from unclean water,” said the now 12-year-old Katherine. “We thought that really wasn’t fair, and we wanted to do something about it.”

Their hobbies quickly turned from arts and crafts into a passion project. They originally aimed to raise $500 toward a $9,200 deep-water well in Ethiopia by selling ornaments in Starbucks. They sold out in the first night, and two months later raised more than $10,000 for the well. The girls kept selling their pieces, resulting in the over-funding of a second well.  

Paper for Water evolved into a global movement, eventually creating more than 160 water projects in 15 countries. Over the years, they’ve helped more than an estimated 48,000 people around the world have clean, accessible water.

“I think just the concept of millions and millions and millions of people not having the most basic necessity for life is really hard for people to grasp,” said Isabelle, age 15.

The Adams sisters’ efforts have helped people both internationally and domestically. There are more than 3 million people in the United States who don’t have access to clean drinking water. In 2015, Paper for Water partnered with DIGDEEP to drill wells for a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. The organization also uses volunteers around the world to create products and educate people in developed countries about the importance of global water access.

Read More: Why Water Matters

“I think one of the things that makes us relatively unique is that not only do we focus a lot on providing clean water to people in other countries, but also on providing kids and adults, here in the US and around the world, the opportunity to make a difference,” said Isabelle. “It creates this connection between them and the people they’re helping, and it makes them even more inspired to keep helping.”

Through Paper for Water, Katherine and Isabelle inspire people to help their global community. 

“Even I sometimes have trouble just wrapping my mind around the idea of 844 million people not having water. I think once people begin to grasp that idea they become really motivated to help,” said Isabelle.

You can read more about the Adams Sisters and their foundation Paper for Water in their interview with D magazine here.