Brady Wheatley – Teacher – The Island School
“Si claro gringita quiero ir a la escuela, pero mi trabajo en la casa es traer el agua.” Of course gringita I want to go to school, but it is my job in the house to bring the water. My world stood still in this second as I saw the expression of confusion on the five-year-old boy’s face. I had grown up in a world of plenty. There was always water when I turned on the tap, and on top of that- clean water. Researching the water wars in Bolivia I expected to encounter personally challenging moments in which my interviews didn’t go as planned, or maybe the roads would be blockaded and I couldn’t get through. What I never realized was that in my work examining the “culture of protest” related to the water wars I would have my world flipped upside down. Every day people told me their stories of water struggles- walking 2 hours to get dirty water, filling up buckets on the days the city turned on the water, or worse stories of burying their children for lack of access to clean water. I was naïve, I was spoiled and I was enraged. Why had I grown up with enough water to run in the sprinkler for fun when the majority of the world was struggling to have adequate drinking water?
I left Cochabamba, Bolivia convinced I could make the difference. I would finish school and become the head of the UN or World Bank- whichever had more power to stop the absurd injustice. Luckily, I realized quickly that this would be a lifetime goal- not a 5-year plan. Working in Mexico after graduating I quickly saw another side of the story. Living in a dessert environment I saw the aquifer for our town run dry time and time again- and a few hours away resorts were watering grass at high noon for golfers to enjoy their care-free, all inclusive vacations, away from their world of stress. I saw the plastic bottles and bags float in the estuaries strangling sea turtles and mangroves from the trash these tourists and local communities created. There were thousands of pieces of plastic from water bottles floating in our ocean, endangering our ecosystems. The absurdity was too much. In order to create one plastic bottle of water we use 8 times that amount of water- and often in countries where there is not a plethora of water. Companies make us believe we need plastic bottles, that it tastes better, that it is more inconvenient. Well those 2 seconds we save by grabbing a water bottle rather than filling a glass from the tap may be what is costing us our future. Nearly 8 out of 10 plastic bottles end up in a landfill or being burnt- producing more toxins in the air for us to breathe in.
Coming here to the Island School has been a huge relief in many ways. Finally I can live somewhere and only use the water that falls from the sky. I can work with the girls’ dorm to keep cutting down those showers and tighten the faucets in an effort to help our water supply last. But then I see the inevitable cost of consumption- the bottled sports drinks we all drank after the 4-mile road race; the candy bars students go to the marina store to get in their free time; the 16,000 liters of water that go into 1 kg of beef; and the countless liters of water that go into our food production.
Since I am not quite ready to start running the UN or World Bank I will be focusing on the things that I can do to conserve water. Not just taking short showers and turning off the faucet, but the other things we do and consume everyday without realizing it. 1 in 6 people in the US drink only bottled water- creating plastic and aquatic waste. Many corporations have poor water practices that displace communities from their home. We as consumers can be more responsible and take the lead in supporting socially responsible companies. The world is beginning the conversation of water as a human right, but in the mean time I will be voting every day with what I choose to consume.