ZEELAND, Mich. — Every day, countless families all around the world trek to get water that – even after miles of walking – may still be dangerous to drink. For a few more weeks, Ed Zwyghuizen will be one of them.
For 51 days ahead of his 51st birthday, Zwyghuizen is walking from his home to a number of nearby and not-so-nearby water sources. Each day, he collects and filters his own water supply to show solidarity with those who have to do it daily.
If Zwyghuizen doesn’t collect it himself, he doesn’t drink it.
It’s a personal mission for him. Zwyghuizen is the CEO and president of 20 Liters, a Grandville-based nonprofit that equips areas in sub-Saharan Africa with water filters.
He did this same thing last year in the 50 days leading up to his 50th birthday.
“We get water and we don’t even think about it, we just walk to the sink, turn it on, and away we go,” said Zwyghuizen before FOX17 accompanied him on one of his walks for water.
Standing in front of a water filter similar to what 20 liters provides to schools and families, he explains how his gesture is a small example of what hundreds-of-thousands struggle with constantly.
“It’s actually putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes and you’re doing it over and over again. It gives you a deeper understanding,” he said.
FOX 17 walked with Zwyghuizen about a mile to a pond near his Zeeland home. He kneels, and collects his water in a jug large enough to get him through the day.
“Mentally, the water tastes better. Because I know I’m a partner with other people in the world that are having to do it every single day.”
Dirt, grime, scum, even animal droppings haven’t stopped the filter yet. This demonstration is also a good opportunity for Zwyghuizen to build confidence in the 20 Liters mission.
“You can suck up a leaf if you want, you can get some of the crud, you can do whatever because it goes in dirty and it comes out clean,” he says as he collects the pond water.
Back at his home, Zwyghuizen pours the jug’s contents into the filter, and it’s ready to drink in a matter of minutes.
“It really is that simple. If you don’t have clean water you die,” Zwyghuizen said. “That is an ah-ha type moment. When you say alright, we’re going to change this. And we are.”