2017-05-23 / Today's Top Stories

3,215 miles: A walk for water

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By BRIANNE OSTRANDER

Staff Writer

TOWANDA — A total of 3,215 miles across the United States is a long way to drive, much less walk. Nevertheless, a New Jersey man has embarked on the five-to-six-month journey of walking from New Jersey to California carrying 10 gallons of water for international clean water awareness. Monday, his route passed through Towanda.

James Leitner, a 23-year-old New Jersey native, has taken on the challenge of a cross-country trek to shed light on the 1 billion people worldwide who do not have access to clean drinking water. His trip has already raised $3,523.

A cause he has now dedicated his career to, Leitner found his passion for the issue of clean water in grade 11.

“When I was a junior in high school, I found out people in the world didn’t have access to clean drinking water and it kind of just baffled me,” explained Leitner. He was given a final project on global issues and chose to pursue the subject of water without back knowledge of the subject. “I really had no idea at all why water could be a global issue and I guess finally the one time I decided to go the extra mile in high school was to research water. I came upon a charity and I learned that, at the time, a billion people in the world didn’t have access to clean drinking water. It was something I never thought about before. It ended up changing my career path in general.”

The research struck a passion in Leitner and he organized fundraisers throughout high school and while he attended college with a major in environmental science. Leitner pursued interest in working with non-profit organizations during this time, but wanted to be more involved with more technical aspects of what the donated money was used for. He traveled to the East African country of Tanzania over the summer of 2014 to participate in the building of three wells and training residents to use them.

“I had no idea how a non-profit happens and I feel like I was able to find a new passion as well as a way to become a global citizen and how to help people gain a connection to community on the other side of the world,” he commented.

Upon returning, he decided to work with an organization called the Philadelphia-Serengeti Alliance full time.

“I had to find something to do that still had this indulging passion and had to try and do something, so I combined my athleticism with fundraising and decided to do a marathon a month while carrying five gallons of water,” Leitner said. He carried five gallons of water to symbolize the exact amount needed in a developing country for one person’s daily needs.

Leitner began running one marathon a month in May of 2016 and finished April 21, 2017, just 26 days before beginning his walk across the nation. The cross-country walk took around five months to plan, much of which he organized between the marathons.

Donations from this trip will go back to Tanzania water projects. Specifically, money will go to the Mara region of the country, where there are currently 307 broken wells.

When the wells were created by other organizations, locals weren’t trained how to use them, so when an issue arose, the well became useless. Now, Leitner will use trip donations to repair the existing wells and train members of the community to do well maintenance, adding to the stability of the well.

The route, spreading from Scotch Plains, N.J., to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, purposely goes through Flint, Mich. Flint is widely known as an American city with vast water insecurity problems, which Leitner plans to learn more about.

Over the course of the walk, Leitner will be sleeping in campgrounds, staying with friends and family, at hotels, and possibly even camping in generous strangers' yards overnight. He begins his days around 6 a.m. to avoid walking during the hottest parts of the afternoons and has been going a distance of about 28 miles per day.

“The biggest challenges are definitely going to be different weather elements,” he said, “I’m no stranger to rain or snow, but with weather changes, each day is an emotional roller coaster of lots of ups and downs and so, a simple weather change can be an emotional change as well.”

Leitner hopes to raise enough money over the course of his journey to go to Tanzania for an extended time afterward — potentially over a year — to show people who donated where their money is specifically going and how it’s changing the communities there.

“Stuff I’m really excited for,” shared Leitner, “seeing areas of the United States I’ve never seen before. I was able to talk to some of the farmers in PA before arriving here in Towanda, which was really nice and they were all so friendly. It was great to chat with them, so I’m just really excited to meet new people and the mysteries of the trip, like trying to find places to sleep.”

When asked why he cares so much about global clean water he replied, “It was kind of what gave me that passion that got me really stuck into it, and the idea that kids as young as 8 are doing this every day to get water. There are these social dynamics of a developing country where women and children are getting water while men do other work, and it’s just a different life that I had no idea actually existed.”

As Leitner prepares to leave Pennsylvania on Tuesday, he remarked, “It’s been a great trip so far. Everyone’s been extremely friendly. I’m actually really going to miss this area of PA tremendously because I had so much fun talking to farmers and going through those areas.”

To support Leitner’s global clean water cause or to find out more information on the international clean water crisis, go to missioncleanwater.com.

Brianne Ostrander can be reached at (570) 265-2151 ext. 1627; or email bostrander@thedailyreview.com.

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