Walking down West Pine, it’s difficult to miss Saint Louis University junior Hannah Vestal. Her warm smile and friendly waves make her easy to pick out of a crowd.
Oh, and she’s the one carrying around the forty pound, yellow jug of water.
Vestal’s latest accessory is part of a larger fundraising effort for the non-profit organization Water For Panama. Water for Panama raises funds to implement clean water systems in Panama so those living in these impoverished areas do not have to walk as far for clean water.
“I found out that people have to actually carry these water jugs and it just amazed me that they have to do that every day,” Vestal said. “Sometimes they carry these forty pound jugs for four hours, just to get clean water. It just made my heart hurt for these people.”
ST. LOUIS-Vestal, holding up her water jug, keeps her social media active with updates on her fundraising efforts. Her fundraising began in early September. (SLU/Hannah Vestal)
Vestal began her fundraising efforts in early September with an initial fundraising goal of $500. After two weeks, she had surpassed that goal and wanted to do more. Three months later, Vestal is on track to raise $7,500 to purchase an entire windmill aqueduct that will provide clean water for the people of Panama.
“I get to go to Panama next semester as an intern with Water for Panama, so hopefully I can raise the money by then, so I can actually implement the windmill that I’m raising money for,” Vestal said.
ST. LOUIS- Vestal waits in line at Starbucks, water jug in tow. Vestal brings her water jug wherever she goes, which usually sparks conversation. (SLU/Emily McDermott)
Vestal initially became involved in Water For Panama to support her friend and fellow SLU junior, Rachael Pace, who founded the organization. Pace first saw a need for clean water systems after spending time in Panama on a mission trip in 2009, and made it her goal to raise funds and awareness about this fundamental issue.
“While I was there, I was faced with the heartbreaking reality that nearly 90% of indigenous Panamanians lack access to clean water, a statistic I was not, and am not, okay with. I started Water for Panama because I just had to do something to help,” Pace said.
ST. LOUIS-Vestal engages another student in dialogue about her fundraising efforts. Vestal says most people begin the conversation, and then she is happy to share about Water for Panama. (SLU/Emily McDermott)
The response to Vestal’s fundraising has been incredibly positive and generated buzz around SLU’s campus. Dr. Ruben Rosario Rodriguez, theological studies professor, had Vestal in class and was immediately inspired by her efforts. Rosario was particularly connected to the cause, as he spent his childhood in Panama.
“When I was a kid, my sister and I, during the dry season, would have to walk to find water, because we didn’t have a water treatment plant in our area,” Rosario said. “You had to take your jugs and had to ration how much water you could take per family.”
ST. LOUIS-Vestal walks home from class while carrying her water jug. She says “getting anywhere takes awhile”, because others constantly stop and ask about her water jug. (SLU/Emily McDermott)
Vestal’s passion for the cause has grown immensely since the start of her fundraising efforts. She says Water for Panama hopes to make a dent in the water crisis, and her efforts seek to first raise awareness, and then raise funds for the organization.
“One in nine people don’t have access to clean water. Bottom line. If I can get that point across, that’s first. I want to spread awareness, and then hopefully people will want to help and donate,” Vestal said.
To support Hannah in funding a windmill aqueduct, click here.
To learn more about Water For Panama, click here.