Levin College Forum

Making Waves from Cleveland to Uganda

About the Program | Brief Description | Longer Description | Artist Statement | Artist Biography

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Talk and Video Screening: 4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m., Dively Community Room
Making Waves Photography Exhibit: 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m., Campbell Galleries
Maxine Goodman Levin School of Urban Affairs
Cleveland State University
Cleveland, OH 44115

About the Program:

More than 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Earth is covered with water, but only 3% is freshwater, and .3% of that is available to drink. The Great Lakes Region is water-rich holding 20% of the earth's fresh surface water; something forgotten or unknown, even in the region itself.

This story is about one woman from Cleveland, Ohio, who is determined to share the water wealth of the Great Lakes with people in need. She learned about children at a rural orphan school walking miles daily to haul dirty water in Uganda. She knew she had to do something.

Turning passion into action over two years, she returns to fulfill the promise to bring the students life through access to safe water.

Join CSU alumna Erin Huber ’09, ‘11, Maxine Goodman Levin School of Urban Affairs Distinguished Alumna 2012, for a riveting presentation on this powerful story of determination and hope.

A reception will be held afterwards at the “Making Waves” Photography Exhibit opening: 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. in the Campbell Galleries, directly across from the Dively Community Room.

Brief Summary:

Water is life. It quenches our thirst and energizes the food we grow, but only a small percentage is drinkable. The Making Waves photography exhibit features the work of photojournalist Laura Watilo Blake, who spent two years working with the local nonprofit organization Drink Local, Drink Tap to help raise awareness about water issues both here and abroad. Blake documented life in a small Ugandan village and the efforts to bring safe drinking water to the community. The resulting collection will be on display through the month of September.

Making Waves is a corollary exhibit to At Home in Africa: Design, Beauty, and Pleasing Irregularity in Domestic Settings currently being shown in the Galleries at CSU.

Longer Description:

Of all the things that make the earth special and inhabitable, the most fundamental to life is water. It quenches our thirst and energizes the food we grow, but only a small percentage is drinkable.

Here in Cleveland, we’re lucky. The Great Lakes, one of the Earth’s largest freshwater systems, contains 18 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. And nearly 80 percent of people in the U.S. rely on that water for consumption. Yet, “Blue gold,” as water is sometimes called, is a finite resource and the strain on the system, whether from pollution or consumption, is a hot-button issue. In the last 100 years, the world population has tripled, but world water consumption has increased 600 percent. While we can get our water out of faucet, more than 1.1 billion people suffer from a lack of access to clean drinking water. Many of them — often times school-aged children — must walk long distances to fetch water and carry it back to their homes.

That’s where former CSU student Erin Huber comes in. She’s the founder of the local organization Drink Local. Drink Tap., which focuses on ways to reduce plastic bottle waste and keep it from getting into the water supply chain through education and events in Cleveland. In July 2011, she set out to help a rural village in Uganda, called Mulajje, and devised a plan to raise money for a new, clean water source — called a borehole — on the grounds of the local school. The students were walking several miles twice a day to fetch water — sometimes even further if the source was dry. They were often sick with water-borne illnesses because they didn’t have time to boil the water to make it drinkable before classes started in the morning.

Photographer Laura Watilo Blake went along to help document the efforts of the organization and to help raise awareness about global water issues. The “Making Waves” collection is the result of two years of work both here in Cleveland and abroad. Many of the photographs were taken in Uganda’s rural countryside in a community where the cards are stacked against it. Without adequate medical care, people are dying from malaria and waterborne and HIV-related illnesses that leave children orphaned. The lack of reliable electricity limits work hours. The area kids have no school supplies and teachers have no textbooks. The worst drought in 60 years had caused crops to wither, stomachs to grumble and water sources to dry up. The list could go on and on.

Despite all the suffering, the people of Mulajje have unwavering strength, pride, faith, compassion, love, generosity and, most of all, hope. These are the traits this collection of images celebrates. At the same time, the goal is to find a solution for at least one of Uganda’s biggest challenges: access to clean, safe drinking water. If you’re reading this, then you’re a step closer to being part of the solution.

We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface, but with your help, we can all dig a little deeper.

Artist Statement:

Living in the first world, it’s hard to imagine what people on the other side of the globe are experiencing on a day-to-day basis, but being able to show it in photos helps put it all into perspective. You might not think getting a drink of water out of the faucet is a luxury until you see the hours of planning and physical labor involved into doing the same thing in rural Uganda. For 11 weeks over two summers, I walked alongside the school students on their way to the closest water source and even attempted to carry their heavy water containers. It wasn’t easy for a grown adult.

Lack of water may have been the reason I went to Uganda, but I discovered it wasn’t the only obstacle rural Ugandans face everyday. Most of the people of Mulajje are subsistence farmers and had little extra money to pay for the food, fuel and medicine that would make their lives a little bit better. Families have been destroyed by AIDS, malaria and other diseases and many of the students we met were orphaned — some HIV positive.

Despite their overwhelming difficulties, we encountered loving and hospitable people who were willing to offer us what little they had, whether it was fresh mango plucked right from the tree in their yard or a heaping portion of mashed bananas, the staple food consumed at every meal. So, it was gratifying when water finally flowed out of the new water source on school property in June 2012. We may have helped only 600 of the 1.1 billion people without access to water, but hopefully we can inspire others to take up the cause and help others gain access to life’s most fundamental human need — however they can, wherever they can.

Artist Biography:

Laura Watilo Blake is photojournalist, writer, filmmaker and graphic designer living in Cleveland, Ohio.