3 out of 4 stars
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In 2008, Jon Kaufman, a successful businessman running a marketing firm in Silicon Valley, treated his older sister, Jaye, who was fighting a losing battle with ovarian cancer, to a cruise. After enjoying a lavish beach buffet in Labadie, Haiti, Jon and Jaye were about to reboard the cruise ship when, ignoring the instructions of the staff, they looked back at the island. Their moment of sibling mischief became one of complete dismay as they watched hordes of impoverished locals - men, women, and children - come down from hills to scavenge through the vacationers' buffet leftovers. Troubled by the stark juxtaposition of his own excess and these hungry Haitians' indignity, Jon promised his weeping sister that he would "do something about this." This declaration, thereafter referred to as The Vow, marked the beginning of Kaufman's conversion from marketing moneymaker to "Water Warrior," a journey he documents in <i>Long Walk on a Dry Road</i>.
Equal parts memoir, travelogue, public-service announcement, and editorial, Kaufman's book might have been better titled "Long Walk on a Dry, Rutted, Underfunded, Dangerous, Largely Ignored Road." After learning that thousands of children under the age of 5 die of waterborne illness every day and that the World Health Organization estimates that half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne disease, Jon determined that the most effective way to help the overlooked poor in undeveloped countries is to provide clean drinking water. He began by dumping money into water-focused charities, only to find that many of the methods employed by these organizations are inefficient and unmaintained, which prompted him to find a better solution. That solution was the SunSpring, a revolutionary water-purification system invented by Jack Barker, president of Innovative Water Technologies. The SunSpring uses ultrafiltration to convert raw water from an existing contaminated source to drinking water that is 99.999% pathogen free at an output of 5000 gallons a day using solar power, making its operating cost virtually $0, and it requires minimal maintenance. Thus began H2OpenDoors, which Kaufman started within Rotary International. H2OpenDoors partners with foreign Rotarians and non-government organizations to scout for prime locations in need of water purification, perform the necessary testing of the water source, raise funds for the installation entirely from donations, and travel to set up a SunSpring and teach the locals to maintain it. But they don't stop there. They often identify other community needs while scouting and arrange to meet those as well, such as providing schools with digital educational resources, and they empower the locals to set up a water-sales enterprise. The proceeds from sales then benefit their own community.
Perhaps the H2OpenDoors website sums it up best:
<p>"We contribute a solar-powered water purification plant that can produce up to 40,000 liters of safe drinking water every single day from virtually any raw source. This is enough water production to guide a village or a school into establishing a water sales business, earning as much as $100,000 per year for their social services."</p>
Frankly, my ignorance with regard to the world's water crisis was appalling. <i>Long Walk on a Dry Road</i> was strikingly eye-opening for me, which is the first reason I would recommend that others read it. I had no idea that most of the world spends up to 1/2 of their income on drinking water or that many people walk several miles both ways just to get to their water source every day. I was troubled to learn that the UN estimates that global demand for safe drinking water will exceed supply by 40% in 2030. Perhaps I'm the proverbial "last to know," and my readers are rightfully shaking their heads at my naiveté. I'm grateful to have read Kaufman's book simply for the enlightenment and awareness I gained on this pressing issue.
More than that, it's an entertaining read, chronicling Jon's journey as a Water Warrior, which has included typhoons, close calls, failure, tears of pain and joy, flat tires, global friendships, miles of bureaucratic red tape, and one holdup at gunpoint. Installations in 10 countries, including Nepal, Tanzania, Mexico, and Haiti, have provided Kaufman with exposure to many cultures. His style is straightforward and to the point, making it approachable for everyone.
As important as I believe Kaufman's book is, I am obligated as a reviewer to discuss negatives. There are aspects of this book that will put off some readers, in my opinion. First, Kaufman includes his political views about, for example, President Trump. He forewarns his readers that his "opinions are woven through every paragraph," but my concern is that some readers who would otherwise be moved to support H2OpenDoors' efforts will be turned off by political commentary, which would be a shame. Second, there are editing issues throughout the book, such as missing and misplaced commas and hyphens, incomplete sentences, missing quotation marks, abrupt tense changes, one instance of misuse of "it's," etc. These pale in relevance compared to the book's point, but these errors alone force me to lower my rating. Third, Kaufman refers to many statistics throughout the book about subjects like waterborne illness, inefficiency or efficiency of various water-purification methods or products, financial figures, etc., but I believe there are only 2 footnotes. Given the number of claims made in <i>Long Walk</i>, there is a glaring lack of citations or references to a source, digital or otherwise. I think his lack hurts his credibility, although I am inclined to believe him without supporting footnotes. Finally, this book could be better organized. Many details aren't explained until the later chapters, which made the earlier chapters a bit confusing. For example, several references are made early on about providing a school with a RACHEL, but the acronym's meaning is not explained until after the book's halfway point. Several later chapters, such as "Second Responders Matter" cover information that would be better placed earlier in the book, as they explain why current so-called solutions to the world's water problems are not physically healthy, cost-efficient, or sustainable in the long term.
Unfortunately, the above issues cost Kaufman's book a perfect rating. However, it is such a relevant and powerful book that I would recommend it to everyone except for very sensitive readers who can't tolerate the occasional F-bomb or discussion of ailments such diarrhea. Although, if so many of our brothers and sisters must experience these ailments daily due to their poor water quality, then those of us who can literally play in clean water whenever we want should be willing to hear about these struggles, and perhaps a few F-bombs are in order. I humbly award <i>Long Walk on a Dry Road</i>, by Jon Kaufman, <b>3 out of 4 stars</b>. When a SunSpring is installed, H2OpenDoors doesn't just tap into safe drinking water - They tap into humanity's immeasurable potential.
Long Walk on a Dry Road
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