By Evan Ream
Somewhere in the Ezhana region of Ethiopia, women and children dressed in colorful but filthy garb huddle around a pond so brown that one might mistake it for dirt.
Each figure is rail-thin and sports a ubiquitous somber mood. They are thirsty but the only water they have available is rancid and flush with disease.
Ethiopia is one of the most populous nations in the world but also one of the poorest. Situated just above the equator, temperatures in the East African country average in the upper 70s even in the winter and water, not to mention clean water, is constantly scarce.
In the world, a child dies every 20 seconds from a waterborne disease that could easily be prevented with access to clean water and the correct sanitation facilities. Most of these deaths occur in impoverished areas without clean running water such as Ethiopia.
The lack of basic amenities that most U.S. citizens take for granted leads to some shocking figures. The life expectancy of an average Ethiopian citizen is between 56 and 60 years, a full 20 years shorter than that of an average American.
As one of the top athletes in professional skating, Nyjah Huston, fresh off of his 18th birthday, should be out skating the best spots in the world and enjoying his considerable winnings.
Instead, the Davis native has decided to use his incredible fame (his Facebook page has more than 461,000 likes) to do something good for people less fortunate than he.
In 2008, Nyjah and his mother Kelle Huston formed a nonprofit called Let it Flow, which raised enough money to build a well in Ethiopia. Now, the Hustons have a new Indiegogo.com campaign that aims to raise funds by Jan. 18 to build four more wells in African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.
At roughly $3,700 each, these wells would provide clean water to about 2,000 people.
This isn’t a random cause for the skater and his mother: They actually know what it’s like to live without a clean running water source.
Shortly after Huston’s birth, the family moved from Davis to a remote island in Fiji where they had to travel by boat each week to obtain clean water from another island.
“That was my first experience of trying to live without running water,” said Kelle Huston. “I had to ration (the water from each trip) to last for a week.”
After moving back to Davis briefly, the Hustons moved to the middle of the Puerto Rican jungle. Their water was delivered via a PVC pipe that collected it from a nearby mountaintop.
When it stormed, the pipe would get clogged with debris and the family would be forced to walk the round-trip distance of three football fields to utilize their back-up water source.
But, unlike the thirsty Africans, the Hustons had decided to live in the water-challenged areas.
“We put ourselves in some pretty remote situations by choice,” Kelle Huston said. “It made me aware of what people had to live with without running water.
“There are people in the world that have to (walk to get their water) every day and they aren’t walking 500 feet. They’re walking miles.”
To build a well with clean water, an average Ethiopian citizen would have to save their roughly $1,000 annual average pay for four years without any expenditures.
The campaign hopes to raise a total of $18,000 and, through Wednesday afternoon, had received $9,314. For contributing to the cause, donors can receive different Nyjah Huston prizes such as an autographed T-shirt, an autographed skateboard deck, or even a private skate session depending on the amount donated.
“Nyjah has achieved so much as a professional skater at only 18, starting out skating the steps and rails at UCD,” said Lynette Ecklund, a Davis resident and Huston family friend. ”Yet (he) is so focused on meeting the needs of others in Africa through his Let it Flow campaign for clean and safe water.”
The campaign has already earned the support of famous professional skateboarders such as Tony Hawk and Rob Dyrdek as well as skating sponsors like Element and DC.
Huston is even considering a request from the minister of Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in order to raise more support for the water crisis that currently plagues Eastern Africa.
“I want people to know the human-side of Nyjah beyond the skateboard,” Kelle Huston told ESPN in December. “His upbringing has given him a unique perspective on life, and I think he has a lot to share. Clean, safe water is something that most Americans take for granted and I know that we wouldn’t be so passionate about it had we not experienced it ourselves.”
Thanks to the Huston family’s earlier hardships and current passions, perhaps some less fortunate families will finally be able to quench their everlasting thirsts.