US Man hikes cross-country for clean water

11:30  13 october  2017
11:30  13 october  2017 Source:   USA TODAY SPORTS

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Scotch-Plains resident James Leitner arriving in San Francisco after his cross-country hike raising money for clean water in Tanzania.© ~Courtesy of James Leitner Scotch-Plains resident James Leitner arriving in San Francisco after his cross-country hike raising money for clean water in Tanzania.

SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J. — After walking more than 3,000 miles across the country, James Leitner returned to his home in New Jersey on Thursday.

Leitner's journey, which took him from New Jersey to San Francisco, was part of the 24-year-old's effort to raise money and awareness for clean water in Tanzania.

On average, he walked more than 40 miles per day for 143 days until he reached his West Coast destination Oct. 6 — all while lugging 10 gallons of water weighing about 80 pounds.

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Leitner said the coast-to-coast trip was chosen specifically to symbolize the total distance that a Tanzanian walks in a year to get water.

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"This trip took me 143 days," he said. "That means someone in Tanzania spends 143 days out of the year just getting water instead of going to school, finding work opportunities in their communities, and things like that."

He said that the amount of time spent gathering water in Tanzania, which is on the east coast of Africa, "doesn't even include the fact that their water is not cleaned and they have to spend the time cleaning it, and if someone gets sick it's even worse."

The 10 gallons of water Leitner pulled behind him on his journey represents the average amount of water a small family in Tanzania would use for their typical needs, such as cooking, drinking and bathing.

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So far, Leitner's trip has raised more than $15,000 to increase the availability of clean water in Tanzania, but the fundraiser is ongoing.

The money Leitner is raising will be used to repair wells in Tanzania and educate people in the county on how to maintain the water systems. The money raised will go through the nonprofit Philadelphia Serengeti Alliance.

Leitner's journey was documented on his website, missioncleanwater.com.

Leitner was honored by United Parcel Service for his mission. Through the company's "Delivered Wishes" campaign, UPS will name a rain-water collection system at a school in Kenya in his honor.

"They're sending me to Kenya for about a week or so," he said. "I'm still blown away."

In 2014, Leitner traveled to Tanzania with the Philadelphia Serengeti Alliance and stayed in the country for over a month to see how communities were maintaining their well systems.

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However, his interest in raising awareness for Tanzania's water began before his trip.

"When I was a junior in high school in Scotch Plains, I found out that people didn't have clean drinking water, which I never even knew was a thing," he said. "It really blew me away from there and I started fundraising for just various nonprofits."

Over the course of his coast-to-coast trip, Leitner has seen and learned a lot about his own country.

"You really learn that regardless of where you're from or what you believe, people are really here for humanity," he said. "Everyone would always offer to help me out and lend a hand."

People offered him water and even a spare bedroom at times. Other times, Leitner would stay at campgrounds or get permission to set up camp on a church's lawn.

Down the road, Leitner plans to focus on the UPS project and securing a nonprofit status for his organization, Mission Clean Water. Later, he wants to find a full-time job developing water wells internationally.

"In Scotch Plains itself and New Jersey, we have plentiful water wherever you go," he said. "You really don't think about how important water is until it's gone and you can't access it."

Follow Nick Muscavage on Twitter: @nmuscavage

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