Day Seven: Pay it forward

Feel the benefits of service. By giving back, you slow down and appreciate what you have. The conversation and community that you will embrace will give you that all important essential ingredient: happiness. ~No Impact Project

I’ve been an activist for quite a while–writing about environmental issues, motivating people to sign petitions and send letters to their congressman, working with online communities to raise awareness—but all from the comfort of my own home.

For the No Impact Project experiment, I decided to put my physical self out there into the community for World Toilet Day (which was actually Thursday, a few days prior to the official “Day Seven”). I attended the local Chamber “after hours” on Tuesday and introduced myself to people I’d never seen before in my life, telling them about Thursday’s event–the Big Squat. I explained that 2.5 billion people have no access to a toilet and, due to this lack of sanitation, 5,000 children die EVERY DAY. To raise awareness, I hoped to get a group of people to meet at a “major” intersection in downtown Barrington, IL. And squat. The reactions were mixed—oh how wonderful, but I can’t make it; raised eyebrows followed by an almost desperate glance somewhere behind me and “excuse me, I really have to go talk to so-and-so”. I was able to secure a few “maybe’s”. Were my tactics too bold? Was this subject too hard for people to hear about? I had listed the event on the chamber’s website, created a facebook event, emailed friends and neighbors. What more could I do? My good friend, Jill, promised to be the “photographer” of our big squat, but thought this was the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.

The day of, I dropped by the Women’s Biz Network luncheon to, hopefully, recruit a couple people. At this point, I still had zero confirmed participants. Fortunately, a young woman, Lauren, who worked for the Chamber, agreed to join me. By default, I snagged another, who had no choice because Lauren was her ride.

Confident that I would not be squatting alone, I drove to the designated corner and, with poster in hand, waited for the crowd to form. Jill showed up and I decided to do a couple squats on my own. Situated at the light on Main Street where drivers could not make a right turn with pedestrians (or squatters) present, I unrolled my sign and squatted. Why waste the opportunity to get one or two more people to read my sign–Squat to help 2.5 BILLION with no access to a toilet…–while I awaited the rest of the squatters.

Lauren and her passenger finally came along and, when it became obvious that we’d be the only ones, we got cracking (sorry i couldn’t resist the pun). World Toilet Day asked that we squat for one minute. Since we were already out there, we did multiple squats each time the light turned red, guaranteeing us a captive audience of drivers.

At one point, a woman sporting a running gear, rain coat and backpack appeared (she could have stepped right out of a Patagonia catalog). Pushing the walk button, looked at us curiously. “You’re probably wondering what we’re doing,” I said. She was very receptive and even decided to squat with us! When our legs could take it no longer, we decided our mission was complete.

“Next year will be bigger!” I said to my squatter friends after thanking them for taking part.

I felt good–exhilarated, actually–about what I had accomplished, even though the event didn’t draw hundreds… or even ten. But paying it forward doesn’t have to be huge. It can be done in small doses and in a variety of ways…

  • Give blood — my husband does this on a regular basis and makes up for the fact I can’t seem to give at all (fear) by giving platelets and red blood cells.
  • Host a screening of a movie like Flow or The Cove and educate your guests about how they can take action. Collect donations.
  • See a person with only a few grocery items behind your overflowing cart in the check-out lane? Let them in front of you.
  • Plant a tree — American Forests plants one tree for every dollar you give. They plant the trees “in the right place for the right reason.” You can even plant a tree in someone’s name!
  • Check out VolunteerMatch for opportunities to help out in your community.
  • Start an environmental awareness program, like I Count for myEARTH, at your child’s school.

What are some of the things you do to pay it forward? I’d love to hear from you!

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