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Sawyer Anderson is a typical 11-year-old sixth grader many ways.
The West Fargo, N.D., girl’s favorite classes at Fargo’s Oak Grove Lutheran School are social studies and art — she likes history and loves to draw. She was glad in-person classes could resume this fall because she didn’t want to do school online again this year.
But while she’s keeping up with homework and middle school life this fall, Anderson also became something remarkable for someone her age — a translated author and philanthropist whose children’s book is now selling on the international market and making a difference far away from West Fargo.
It all started when she learned about the need for clean drinking water in Zambia.
A group of board members for Wellspring for the World, a nonprofit that raises money and funds projects to provide safe drinking water for people around the world, were also members of the local Hope Lutheran Church. They suggested to the church that they do a Lenten offering, and a group of 10 people decided to travel to Zambia and see the work in action.
That group included Anderson’s father, Mark, who returned home and told his daughter about some of the things he saw there — and she was motivated to raise a “little bit” of money to help.
“Her comment was, ‘That’s not fair. Every kid should have water,'” he said.
Anderson decided she would make and sell $50 of cookies to donate toward helping those kids. That effort grew into almost $5,000 of cookie sales, and as her story and mission got around the community, people wanted to contribute even more.
“I thought it was just going to be a little bit at first,” she said. “I’m really glad it turned into something bigger, but I wasn’t expecting it.”
Anderson also started making chitenge bags, which are tote bags made from scraps of African wax fabric in vibrant patterns, and has sold more than 400 to further help the cause, according to her dad.
But it’s the book she wrote and illustrated, “Water Works,” that is making the biggest impact around the world.
Since it was released in June 2019, the book has sold more than 8,500 copies in America. In September 2019, the book was published in English for release in Zambia, and more than 1,000 copies were distributed to Zambian schools.
Most recently, a newly translated version was published in Vietnam this fall, and it’s already sold more than 2,200 copies there.
In addition to the money raised from the book’s purchase, agreements with other organizations, including Wellspring and World Vision, means it has raised and been matched with funding to provide more than $750,000 toward the cause so far. That money has been used to build more than 50 wells and provide water to 15,000 people, according to Mark.
He said his daughter made 96 presentations to area churches, service clubs, schools and businesses about the book and the mission to provide clean drinking water from the time the book came out until the COVID-19 pandemic reached the region in the spring.
Anderson said she’s only written this one book so far, and she’s not sure if she’ll write another someday. Right now, she’s just seeing where “Water Works” goes as it continues to be read by more people.
She hasn’t been able to travel to Zambia yet to see how her efforts are helping people there, though she said she did get to do a virtual tour with a virtual reality headset. But she’ll keep doing her part from West Fargo to help there, she said.
“I want to keep doing my water thing,” she said. “I want to keep helping people. That’s all I know is I just want to keep helping people.”
While the pandemic continues and she can’t promote her book as much as she’d like to, Anderson said she’s been keeping busy making more bags and lap blankets to sell — and she hopes others know they can help in their own way, too.
“I want everybody to know that everybody can make a difference,” she said. “If you try and if you want to, it doesn’t have to be big — it can just be small — but I just encourage everyone to try and help with that.”
For more information or to purchase a copy of the book, visit waterworkssea.com.