A Thirst to Change the World: Gwen Debaun ’16 Inspires Community Advocacy
Life had changed for Gwen Debaun. No longer was she a globetrotting activist, traveling to eleven countries in 11 months with World Race, a Christian-based mission to serve people and communities in need.
She returned from the adventure with her itch to travel momentarily scratched, but now the urge that had driven her to leave everything to serve humanity was once more growing.
Debaun began a search to find the next organization with which she could make a difference. And an assignment for English Professor Kevin McKelvey’s class “Writing and Editing for Nonprofits” brought her the answer. “I was making a list of organizations I thought it would be fun to work with,” Debaun said. She remembered hearing about The Thirst Project, a group that works to address the global drinking water crisis, and she decided to learn more: “I put the Thirst Project on my list and started to fall in love with the work their team had been doing around the world.”
Debaun turned to UIndy’s Professional Edge Center, an on-campus resource dedicated to building student professional connections and skills. Kirk Bryans, Pro Edge’s director of financial services, manufacturing, logistics and entrepreneurship, helped her get an interview with Seth Maxwell, CEO of the Thirst Project. When discussing how she might be able to help the organization as an intern, Debaun didn’t mince words: “I honestly don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything more in my life.”
Later that month, Debaun’s persistence and prayers paid off, and she started the Thirst Project’s Road Warrior internship program just after graduating with a degree in environmental sustainability and a minor in international relations. Debaun traveled across North America, speaking at schools about the water crisis faced by people every day and that she, as a world traveler, had experienced herself.
“In the past eight years, students have helped us to raise more than $8 million to fund clean water projects to help more than 300,000 people in 13 countries,” Debaun says. “During the World Race, I saw first-hand what the global water crisis is actually like. I’ve felt the effects of drinking dirty water. I could not have been more excited to travel across the country educating students and helping them to use their talents to end the global water crisis.”
“The experience was an absolute dream for me,” Debaun says. “I’ve worked on public speaking, encouraged students to change the world and traveled.”
As she plans the where and the when of the next chapter in her career, Debaun knows there is one source on which she continuously relies. “So many people at UIndy helped me to get to where I am today,” she says. “I could never have done this by myself.”