California Second Grader Sets Goal for Clean Water Worldwide

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Riley Goodfellow, 8, ate 25 dinners of rice and beans to help raise money provide clean water worldwide. Credit: Sarah Goodfellow


When Riley Goodfellow took a trip to Guatemala with her parents last summer, she was struck by how many people there were living in poverty without clean water. The 8-year-old came away from the experience with a mission: Everyone in the world should have clean water.

The second grader is no stranger to service projects. Near her home in Orange County, Calif., she has picked crops for Second Harvest, making food available to those who don't have any. She has helped out at a preschool program in an inner city church in Watts. Each time she visits her grandparents in Winston-Salem, N.C., she helps serve soup to the homeless at Samaritan Ministries.

And, in June 2009, when Goodfellow's parents, Blake and Sarah, took the family to Guatemala, the youngster conceived her clean-water goal.

"We went to Guatemala and took the kids and were in the slums. That was the first time she had seen true poverty," Sarah Goodfellow tells ParentDish.

There, Goodfellow learned that worldwide, close to 5,000 children die each day from drinking unclean water. She took a piece of paper and started to make tally marks, trying to fathom the number of deaths, and her 5,000 marks filled three pages of paper, front and back, the girl tells ParentDish in a phone interview.

When the family returned to its Irvine, Calif., home, Goodfellow's parents gave her a choice of service projects to help people. Since the family had donated money to charity: water before, her parents included the suggestion that she raise $5,000 to build a well.

"We didn't want her to forget," her mom tells ParentDish. "We told her to raise $2,500 and we would raise $2,500. And she raised the entire amount."

Her parents used some of their resources to help set up the project, but Goodfellow approached friends to give money. She attracted some donations from people reading her blog, The Riley Project, which her parents helped her manage for the first well. The girl, who says she enjoys science because the class gets to do experiments, says she wants to become a teacher and then live in the village where her first well is built.

"I need help making wells and not many people have clean water like us," Goodfellow says. "On my birthday, instead of presents, I asked people to give money to the wells."

Goodfellow also earned $220 for eating rice and beans for 25 dinners. The money came from what the family saved by not eating other meals, although Goodfellow says, "it was not fun."

Sarah Goodfellow says her daughter has a "heart for this" and loves her "childlike quality of 'why would we stop? People don't have clean water, so let's do something about that'."

Goodfellow shares that quality with Scott Harrison. When she met the founder and president of charity: water, Harrison asked her about the 5,000 tally marks. He says her response was "I wanted to know what 5,000 kids dying every day looks like."

"There are a billion people on the planet without access to clean water," Harrison tells ParentDish in a phone interview, adding that charity: water works on projects providing clean water in 16 different countries. The organization strives to provide seven different means for providing clean water to communities, including building wells.

Once a person gives any amount to help provide clean water, charity: water works with partners to put the structure into place and then gives donors the G.P.S coordinates of where their money has been used, Harrison says.

"If you gave $11, you would learn where your $11 went," he says.

The organization, which started in 2007, has raised more than $19 million with 90,000 donors worldwide. By December 2009, it had served 1 million people with 2,300 water projects.

But, Harrison says, that is only one-thousandth of the problem solved. During the next 10 years, the organization's goal is to serve 100 million people -- still only solving 10 percent of the problem -- and requiring $2 billion.

"The only way that we will reach those goals is through reaching people and telling the story to their friends, their family, their community," Harrison says.

And, with Goodfellow, Harrison has found a determined ambassador. Now, onto her next campaign, the young girl has partnered with her two brothers, ages 6 and 4, and two friends to form The Beans and Rice Crew. They have started raising money with plans to keep doing so "until everyone in the world has clean water," Goodfellow says.

Related: Florida Boy Takes 13 Million Steps Across America to Combat Homelessness

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.