Alexi Panos and Tennille Amor realized that they could start making a difference in the world, as in right now. So without any experience in the non-profit world they started E.P.I.C. (Everyday People Initiating Change), a non-profit organization focused on building water wells in villages in the developing world. They just began, and the rest followed, including a feature on MTV, a partnership with Quiksilver, and the building of wells in places that were in desperate need of clean water. And they’re just getting started…
Love + Water- What was Alexi’s and your motivation to start Epic?
Tennille Amor- We all have the opportunity to make a difference in the world right in this moment, which is something both Alexi and I realized at the same time and decided to just start. So in 2006 we started E.P.I.C, and the results have been incredible every step of the way. We didn’t have to give up our lives in order to start this organization, and we didn’t have any experience in the non-profit world. We just learned as we went along, and raised as much money as we could doing fundraisers here and there. Starting Epic has also allowed us to continue on our artistic paths while pursuing this project that we’re so passionate about.
L+W- You are now partnered with Quiksilver- what has that been like?
TA- When Quiksilver started their women’s line they wanted to do something similar to what they’re doing with the men’s line in terms of finding young, creative women who run a charity. We happen to know someone who works for the men’s line who passed our name along to them. They interviewed other charities for about three months, but couldn’t find one that was a better match. We are their brand ambassadors now, and have been super happy about the partnership. When Quiksilver came along they helped us so much with donating clothing and 3% of all their eco-friendly clothing sales, which allowed us to build our second and third wells in Mangalai and Kibebe. Their support has allowed us to accomplish work we didn’t anticipate.
L+W- I understand also that you stay in the areas where you build wells for as long as it takes to help them build sustainable communities.
TA- One thing that we realized that sets us apart as an organization is the personal involvement we have in each of the communities we get involved with. In order to fully understand the struggle we thought it was important to experience it, so we always participate in doing the ‘walk of water’ with the women, where they take us to see where their source of water comes from. We’ve done it enough times now where we could become desensitized to the whole situation if we were to just build wells and leave. We realized how important it is to us to slow down and take the time to educate the people we work with on the importance of why cleaner water is important. As an example, there is an area called Ugele with three villages, and the government had built a well in one of the main villages, which is extremely far away from the other two villages. So the women of the other two villages built a hand-dug well to get water from the main well, and they set out buckets in the morning , do their chores and check on their buckets several hours later. This source of water is not good for them, but to them it makes sense logically to continue in this way because it’s what they’re used to. Some will also have their kids miss school in order to walk the longer distance to get water from the main source. We decided that the best way to help them was to give bikes to each of the three villages so they can get to the main water source easily until we are able to build wells in each village. It also sends the message to them that we are here for a long-term project, and that we plan on working with them until we solve the problem to the best of our abilities. That also instills a sense of trust in them that we are there to help.
L+W- How often do you tend to return to one area before leaving the work entirely in their hands?
TA- We haven’t left a village entirely yet, and I don’t know that we will. We’ve asked within the villages if we can come back and see the areas that have been affected and see how the cleaner water is helping them, because we want to have a long-term relationship with them. It is the little things that we focus on, like whether a well has broken down or little glitches they might run into along the way to building a more sustainable community that we want to be able to answer for them. That’s most important to us.
L+W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had so far?
TA- It was in a village called Mangalae when we had a meeting with the local women to find out what they needed. We had just done the ‘walk for water’ with them, which was a 3.4 mile walk to the Ruaha River, a terribly dirty source of water. When we sat with them afterwards, we asked them how they felt about getting a new well and whether they would take care of it. One woman said that they would build a wall around it and padlock it and guard it with their lives because clean water is like gold to them. While we were having these conversations there was a woman staring at Alexi and me with such love that I just burst into tears. It was that moment that I realized the impact we were having. As I said earlier it’s easy to become desensitized to what we are doing when we’re focusing on how to raise money, how to get the next well drilled, and all of the logistics involved in planning. But moments like that really serve as a reminder that our work is paying off. It’s really moving.