9.13.09 The Holland Sentinel

ZEELAND, MI- Darlene Vander Wilt wandered into downtown Zeeland Saturday morning looking for some entertainment for her sons.

What she got along with it was some powerful knowledge about a growing global problem.

The Vander Wilt family of Zeeland visited the Global-Local Water Festival in Heritage Square in Zeeland, where about a dozen nonprofits, whose collective goal is to provide clean water to undeveloped areas in the world, gathered to create awareness of the problem.

“I learned how many different parts of the world actually have trouble with clean water,” Vander Wilt said. “I knew a lot of people had trouble with water, but there is a lot more than I thought there were.”

Event organizer Dennis Nagelkirk said 80 percent of all the world's diseases stem from not having access to clean water, and dirty water kills more people each year than cancer, AIDS and warfare combined.

The festival, he said, was a fun and entertaining way to let people know the scope of the problem and also to show that there are several local organizations working to make a difference.

Along with several informational booths and demonstration of many types of water filtration, there were games for kids, food booths, craft stations and several live bands performed throughout the day.

“One of the reasons I felt compelled to do this is because 1.8 million children under the age of five die from diarrhea every year. That's just diarrhea. This problem is the biggest thing facing humanity right now,” Nagelkirk said. “This (festival) is a communications tool. It's to have a good time and it's also to let people know there are some great organizations in their backyard doing some amazing things around the world.”

Nakisha DeJong, the children's ministries director at Community Reformed Church in Zeeland, hosted a booth Saturday promoting the church's annual Water Walk, which raises money for WaterAid America. Several people learned about the walk for the first time, which DeJong said is exactly why the church wanted to be a part of the festival.

“It's amazing exposure. I'm most excited that organizations in Zeeland are getting together, working together and sharing resources together,” she said. “I think anything we can do to raise awareness of this issue around the world is a good thing.”

Vander Wilt enjoyed the venue through which the message was delivered.

“There was plenty (for the kids) to do. It was fun,” she said. “I hope they do it again next year.”

Gary Brower