Flocks of paper origami hummingbirds crafted by children around the world have departed their locations to “attend” the UN Water Conference in New York from 22-24 March, carrying the future generation’s resolve to turn the tide on the global water crisis.
In an ancient Peruvian folktale, a hummingbird fetches water to put out a forest fire, one drop at a time. The other animals look on and laugh at her. Then, the little bird replies, “I’m doing what I can.”
The tale inspired UN-Water, which coordinates the world body’s work on water and sanitation, to launch the ‘Be the change‘ campaign for World Water Day on 22 March, that urges everyone to do what they can to change the way they use and manage water.
As part of this, the United Nations is mobilizing school children to make a global bouquet of origami hummingbirds, which will be on display at UN headquarters during the Water Conference, as a way to connect the registered participants to the children whose future is at stake.
According to UN figures, 1.4 million people die annually and 74 million will have their lives shortened due to diseases related to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene. Worldwide, one in four, or two billion people, lack safe drinking water. Nearly half of all the wastewater coming out of households – from their toilets, sinks, drains and gutters – flows back into nature without harmful substances removed.
About 50 origami birds left Independence Avenue 1&2 Junior High School in Accra, Ghana, carrying the commitments penned by the pupils.
Jan de Vries Assan, a 13-year-old student, told UN News that he often starts the day by joining a long queue to get water, before school. “The water crisis has affected my academic performance,” he said, adding that by the time he finishes domestic chores, morning lessons will have been over.
Derrick Ofori, a teacher, said that his students lack drinking and handwashing water at school, expressing hope that leaders gathering at the UN conference “do whatever they can” to provide his communities with multiple sources of water.
For his part, he pledged to do whatever he can to conserve the precious resource at home. “It sometimes feels wrong to use water for scrubbing the washroom or for washing hands, when we don’t even have good drinking water at school” he said.
Nearly 400 paper hummingbirds departed Japan, where origami, or the art of folding paper into shapes and figures, originates.
“I realized that, like ‘a drop in the ocean’, what makes a big swell worldwide is our small action,” said a student at Nishi-Uji Junior High School in Kyoto.
Also making their way to the conference venue are hundreds of origami birds from other parts of the world, including Brazil, Colombia, France, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
Here in New York, The École, a French-American school, engaged all classes from kindergarten to 8th grade in a World Water Day workshop, in which the students folded pieces of square paper into hummingbirds and wrote their commitments on them.
“It is very important for children to think about water when they’re small, because obviously our generation has a lot to answer for, and this is their planet,” said Jean-Yves Vesseau, Head of School, stressing that they need to start thinking about this problem of water with urgency and be a hummingbird to do their bit for water.
LuAnn Adams, a storyteller, who performed her hummingbird puppet show at the school, told UN News that a hummingbird doing the right thing, even alone, creates unity of “many in body and one in mind”, meaning that all the other animals would eventually follow her lead when “they see the teeny tiny creature is exerting her all.”
“All of a sudden, that unity that spreads like a ripple, you know, gets into a wave, and a huge wave that can do something so masterful for the world.”