Teens are making a difference

Sarah Armstrong: People can help.

By Sarah Armstrong

Teenagers have a reputation for sleeping in, getting in trouble and spending a lot of money. But I know we have the potential to do much more.

Now 14 and an eighth grader at Convent of the Sacred Heart Elementary School on Broadway, I have gone to school in Pacific Heights and lived nearby in the Marina for most of my life. I know there is a perception that the youth here live in a bubble and are self-absorbed and unaware of important issues in the world.

I want to help break that stereotype and encourage young people to make a difference. My friends, who are also teenagers, started an organization in Santa Barbara called Hands4Others, and I have recently started a San Francisco chapter. I’ve had a passion for community service since I was very young and once I learned of the devastation that a simple thing like having dirty water could cause, I wanted to help.

Hands4Others (H4O) is a movement of young people called to change the
world — one person, one family, one village at a time — by providing sustainable access to safe, drinkable water. Many of us working at H4O could not shake the images of children and families forced to spend most of their time gathering insufficient amounts of dirty water — water we would not bathe in, let alone drink.

I have also been struck by the fact that 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water, and that every 15 seconds a child dies because of this. Due to the recent disaster in Haiti, many people are becoming more educated about this water crisis, and I want people to know they can help.

Hands4Others is helping to provide clean water in Africa.

We only need to raise $10,000 to install a water purification system in a village. Once installed, the system will rapidly pump water from the ground or an old dirty source and put that water through many filters until it is perfectly clean to drink. Our first year, H4O was able to provide clean water for about 30,000 people in five countries around the world. And we’re just getting started. Our goal is to provide clean water for more than 1 million people in 500 villages by 2015.

This year, we have already sent two water systems to Haiti, and I am now raising funds to put one in a school in Africa. The San Francisco chapter has raised $6,000 of the $10,000 needed for this school. We are a nonprofit organization and 100 percent of the proceeds go toward providing water systems for people in need.

We are blessed with so much here and there are so many people who need our help. I encourage everyone to get informed about what is happening outside of our community. Each of us can make a difference if we just take the time to open our hearts.

When I’m older and looking back on my life, I will not think of myself as successful because of the house I live in or the car I drive, but because I made a difference in someone’s life.

VIDEO and more information about Hands4Others