“Boy Toni, you just won’t give up,” is what almost 60-year-old Toni Langley has been hearing a lot of these days.
And she’ll reply, “Well you know, one life, two lives, three lives, 300 lives — it’s something I can do.”
In 1997, Toni’s husband saw an ad in a newspaper about a small wine mixer in their city of Raleigh, North Carolina, to help those affected by a lack of clean drinking water. That’s where Toni first met Water.org Co-Founder Gary White and was changed by their conversation.
Fourteen years later, Toni is still a strong advocate and dedicated fundraiser. Through the years she has volunteered, chaired and helped with events — one even bringing in $100,000, and traveled to Water.org project sites in Kenya.
“It is a passion, it is an unbelievable passion,” Toni said. “I won’t give up.”
On Monday, January 17, Toni will celebrate her 60th birthday. She has created a personal fundraising page on FirstGiving to share her passion and invite people to join her in bringing clean water and the dignity of a toilet to a community in Ethiopia.
She chuckled, “I am letting my friends know that I expect at least a $60 donation for my birthday.”
“It’s so darn important,” Toni said, “to give [people in need] the chance to help themselves… enabling people instead of doing for people.”
Empowering the communities, involving them in every step of the process, providing health and hygiene education training, and making sanitation go hand-in-hand with water projects – these are some of the reasons Toni is such a strong supporter for Water.org.
“Without sanitation component, you can have the new well and everything, and even be collecting money to meter it,” Toni said. “But if you’re not teaching kids to wash hands, or not to walk in feces, and don’t track it in your house, then you can still have cholera and other diseases, and access to clean water isn’t as effective.”
“I think every charity should have this model. I don’t have a lot of money, but I can’t think of any other way to use what I do have.”
Toni said because she is retired from American Airlines, she has had the luxury of travel and seen a lot of the realities of how people live around our globe.
“I had been to a lot of third world countries and have seen a lot of poverty…when I met Gary, he told me about the lack of water and how that affects every part of their livelihood, it bothered me and I wanted to do something about it.”
She remarked that the amazing thing about the poor is that they don’t feel poor.
“Even the poorest family will take you in, and want to share their meal with you. The generosity extends from the wealthiest to the poorest – we all have it in us to help.”
And that is why Toni is fundraising for Water.org on her 60th birthday and inviting you to join her.
“The message Water.org offers is a family that has pride and tries very hard to survive, when you say ‘Let me give you this, let me build this for you,’— it’s almost an insult. They would say, ‘No, no, no! I can dig it myself. This is my land, my farm, my water…all I need is the money to do.’”
One story always sticks with Toni from when she went to go visit a completed Water.org water project:
“It’s really a beautiful thing…I was in a community not far from Kisumu, [Kenya]. A man came up and said, ‘I want to thank you for the money that you have given us. We want to have more.’ So I said, ‘Tell me more, what have you done?’ His eyes started to shine and he teared up. He said, ‘I did this so my grandchildren wouldn’t have to walk up this very big hill, and hours later, come down with water on their heads and spill it. I never want to see that.’ Then he said, ‘Will you tell them we are grateful?’ ‘I will.’ We took a picture, and when I looked at it later, I saw he had put his hand over his heart.”