Clean water is their mission

Posted 8/29/19

Since 2012, this West Islip High School teacher and her students have raised more than $165,000 for the drilling of clean water wells in developing countries. Read about the Thirst Project here.

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Clean water is their mission


WEST ISLIP—Clean water is a basic necessity that many people in this country take for granted. However, the students who take part in the Thirst Project have a greater understanding of its importance.

Earlier this month, NYS assemblyman Mike LiPetri (9th District) honored several of those students and their teacher, Paola Nilsen, from the West Islip High School Thirst Project. Since its inception in 2012, the chapter has fundraised $165,141 for freshwater projects in Central America, Africa and India. The group intends to increase that number to around $200,000 next year.

 “The commitment and dedication exemplified by Paola Nilsen and her students, both current and former, is nothing short of inspirational,” said LiPetri. “The selflessness of these individuals should be commended to the highest regard. The continuous effort by the West Islip Thirst Project to improve the quality of life for those across the world demonstrates just how scarce clean drinking water is, and the necessity to protect its availability on a global scale.”  

Thirst Project isn’t the only international organization that raises money to bring clean water to developing countries. However, this not-for-profit group gleans the support of young people who want to end the crisis of contaminated water by drilling clean water wells where they are needed around the world. According to their website, the Thirst Project notes that waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery “kill more children every year than HIV, malaria and all world violence combined.” They note that providing a community with clean drinking water can dramatically reduce the disease rate by 88 percent and the child mortality rate by 90 percent almost overnight.

Nilsen, a West Islip resident and Italian language teacher in the high school, said once she became aware of the organization, she wanted to bring the idea to her students. And once she learned from the organization that all of the money raised by students goes to drilling wells, “I said ‘sign me up.’” That was in March 2012.

Since that time, around 700 West Islip students have taken part in the project. The West Islip Thirst Project has around 150 members on average each year who meet bi-weekly and arrange two fundraisers a month for these efforts. “We’ve put in 35 wells [in various countries]…and 30-35 sand filters in India,” Nilsen noted. She and several of her students – including her son – have already taken trips to one of the benefit countries, Swaziland in Africa. “I’ve been there twice,” Nilsen said.

Amanda Cerrutti, who graduated from West Islip High School in 2015, remains an active member of the club. After graduating from Ithaca College this year, she took a trip to Swaziland with her former teacher. “I wanted to continue doing this work,” she said. “I’ve always loved helping people and the people you meet [in Swaziland] are the most humble, beautiful souls. They welcome us with open arms.”

Some of the students who raised the most money have received Power of Youth Awards, which are trips to Africa paid for by the parent organization. However, Nilsen said she and several other students along with family members have paid their own way to visit the countries they have helped. “It’s a really cool experience,” she said, and remarked on how the locals there treat them like “rock stars” in gratitude for having clean water.

“They explain how we have helped to save lives.”

For more information on this organization, go to the website


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