Michael Alexander has always been drawn to water – after all, his family has had a business on Kelleys Island in Lake Erie since 1981.
Over time, however, Michael and his family have watched as Lake Erie’s water quality has declined. “In the past few years, blue-green algae has made the water around the island unhealthy for swimming and other recreational uses,” he explained. “There are times when it smells and looks disgusting.”
He may have moved away from the Great Lakes area, but Michael’s passion for water and the environment remain. Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area and joining Levi Strauss & Co. four years ago, Michael has been able to combine his passion for water and the environment with his work life.
An administrative assistant who supports Human Resources, Michael first encountered the Project WET program as part of LS&Co.’s commitment to train 100 percent of its employees in the curriculum. Project WET equips employees with the knowledge and resources to teach youth in our global communities about the importance of water conservation and WASH (Water, Access, Sanitation and Hygiene).
Last year, Michael was selected for the company’s Service Corps trip to India. The program takes selected employees to factories and suppliers around the world, allowing them to experience what life is like for workers there. Project WET is embedded in the Service Corps program and is used to teach local children about water as it relates to their local needs.
“We put our Project WET training to use immediately at a supplemental after-school program supported by the LS&Co. Worker Well-being program and one of our suppliers,” Michael said.
Bringing Project WET to Rishikesh
Mother Miracle School, which offers nutrition, healthcare and high-quality education delivered in English to outstanding students from the Rishikesh’s slums.Following his Service Corps experience, Michael traveled to the northern Indian city of Rishikesh. Since 2008, he has been involved with
During his recent trip there, he taught Project WET to a group of 10th graders. The school’s students are profoundly aware of water because of Mother Miracle’s location within the flood plain of the River Ganga (Ganges). The Ganga—which is both a water source and deity for Mother Miracle’s students—floods annually, inundating the neighborhood and bringing disease and destruction.
“They all have intimate knowledge of diseases such as typhoid, dengue fever (they call it dengo), and to a lesser extent, malaria,” he explained. “In addition, the Ganga is a goddess to them. They direct prayers to it, drink it and bathe in it. So, I think the Project WET curriculum allowed for discussion about how precious the resource is in a spiritual and practical sense.”
The experience brought his own privilege into sharp relief while also reminding him of his role in water conservation. “It made me more aware that I need to reduce my water waste rather than just teaching about it,” Michael said.
Michael noted that he was very excited to find out that the students already had an excellent grasp of basic water issues such as the percentage of water on the planet, and to learn more about the handwashing program in place.
“I think ‘A Drop in the Bucket’ was the most impactful for them. I could see their surprised faces with the end result,” Michael said. The ‘Human Knot’ activity, where students can see how germs can be transmitted from person to person using glitter, seemed to shock them as well. “I think it will reinforce the good hand-cleaning programs that exist at the school,” he said.
A learning moment for Michael—and potentially for future Project WET materials—came when he talked to the Mother Miracle students about water conservation. Not wasting water is a standard topic and one that is highlighted in some of the activities Project WET and Levi’s have collaborated on. However, for these students, wasting water is not even an option.
“I was very humbled teaching these students about water waste, as they do not have indoor plumbing,” Michael explained. “Some of the handouts with the indoor plumbing are irrelevant to them. Fortunately, they have plentiful water, but they have common spigots and bathrooms with their families and neighbors. Most of them will bathe from buckets, not in showers, and they use buckets to flush, too.”
Michael said that he has asked the 10th graders he taught to share the Project WET water education activities with teachers, other students and family members. “I was able to leave them with a training kit,” he said, adding that he will follow up with them to see how they are progressing.
“The students in this class are true leaders in the school and the community,” Michael said. “They are the best and brightest from this extremely poor neighborhood.”
Looking ahead, Michael plans to continue his support for Mother Miracle and its students. He hopes to travel to Rishikesh every other year, and he also maintains informal mentoring for some of the students.
He will continue to work on water education locally through LS&Co., both with fellow employees and the larger community. “With the resources available from the Service Corps alumni group, I will be looking for opportunities to reach the goal of educating 100 percent of LS&Co.’s employees about water and sustainability using Project WET,” Michael concluded.
LS&Co. has been sponsoring the Project WET Foundation since 2015. In 2016, company leaders made a commitment at the White House to use Project WET to train 100 percent of their employees about water and sustainability by the year 2020. To learn more about what LS&Co. and Project WET are doing together, check out these stories:
- Levi's employee takes water education to Cambodia with the Service Corps
- How I Use Project WET: Educating Employees and Customers About Responsible Water Use
- LS&Co., Scholastic and Project WET Team Up to Provide Water Education to 1.5 Million Students
- Levi’s Employees are Science Teachers for a Day