Justin Ahrens and a few friends with Wheels4Water use their design skills—and a whole lot more—to help clients working for social change.
On a cool spring day in 2014, graphic designer Justin Ahrens and photographer Brian MacDonald found themselves clad in Spandex, knee-deep in a muddy pond outside of Sturbridge, MA, diving through the muck in a panic as a SteriPEN ever-so-slowly drifted out of sight. It was an unusual way for a designer and photographer to spend their day. But Ahrens and MacDonald are a little different.
The two were riding their bikes 1,200 miles from Boston to Chicago to raise funds for Lifewater International, which provides safe drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people throughout Africa. They dubbed the effort Wheels4Water.
As a show of solidarity with those they sought to help, they had decided to filter all of their own drinking water along the route. That’s how they landed in muddy water on the outskirts of Sturbridge on the second day of their journey. MacDonald dove in to rescue the SteriPEN—a hand-held, UV-powered water purifier—and appeared close to hypothermia when his colleagues fished him out of the soup empty-handed.
Fortunately, ride sponsor CVM, Inc., was able to purchase a new SteriPEN and get it to the team the next day.
“Looking back now, it’s funny,” Ahrens recalls. “Back then we weren’t laughing. But no matter how hard it was for us to filter water on that trip, it was a lot easier than it was for the people we were trying to serve.” By the end of their first ride, Ahrens and MacDonald had raised more than $100,000 for Lifewater—enough to provide a lifetime of clean water to 2,500 Ugandans.