“How many of you have ever stepped in dog poop?” Zack Parker stands in front of a packed house at Tower 23 in San Diego in late 2009. He addresses a crowd of 150 people, mostly 20-somethings in evening gowns and sport coats. They’re all here to support Walu International, Zack’s non-profit organization.
The question hangs in the air for a moment, there are a few giggles, and most people raise their hand.
“Okay, that’s about what I expected,” Zack continues. He’s calm, pacing the floor with a microphone in his hand. “Now, how many of you have stepped barefoot in dog poop?”
The crowd breathes a collective “ew,” and an embarrassed 20 or 30 people raise their hands. The blonde in the front row clutches her long-stemmed wine glass with both hands. She’s hiding something.
“Alright, now how many of you have stepped in human poop?”
Louder “ew’s” moaned. Fewer hands raised.
“Just one more folks, and you probably know where this is going…how many of you have stepped in human poop, barefoot?”
Zack and I are the only ones raising our hands.
It was in Papua New Guinea where Zack and I stepped in human poop. We were on the beach, which serves as both a playground and a toilet for the local people, checking the waves. Zack did it first. I laughed as he ran to the water to wash his feet. About a month later he was laughing at me.
Walu International started as a class project. After our travels Zack enrolled in SDSU’s MBA program. In his Business Plan Writing class, he came up with a theoretical non-profit that would take toilets and water purification systems to the same villages where we saw such unsanitary conditions. He would film the project and make a documentary to promote Walu. He packaged it and presented it to his professor and class. He got an A.
Then he turned it into a reality. Sort of.
Apparently, the difference between classroom theory and real life execution is equal to the Pacific and a backyard swimming pool. The plan to hand-deliver a solution to the people was, while well-intentioned, bad. Zack’s networking skills, however, were good.
A few weeks before we were to return to PNG to save the day Zack met with Dr. Dave Jenkins, founder of Surf Aid International. Dr. Dave explained to Zack that his plan was costly and harmful. We would have to get materials over there, hand them over, and then watch the people not use it, ruining any chance to effectively change habits. We’d be taking destructive “paper weights.”
He suggested we leave the stuff behind, go there, and listen to the people. Don’t tell them anything; listen. Develop trust.
So we did. And we made a short documentary about it (trailer below). About our reception in the village. Our research findings. A surf contest we put on for them and a traditional “wave calling” ceremony they put on for us. It will make you smile.
The documentary is premiering at the W Hotel in downtown San Diego tomorrow, Thursday, September 30 (see flyer for details). Proceeds from the event will go toward a new approach to rural sanitation that Zack learned from Surf Aid in Nias. It focuses on education and empowering the locals to come up with solutions themselves.
You should come. It’s a fun group of nice people, but not the pretentious “we’re better than you” types. If you don’t go for the kids of Papua New Guinea, tell your date that you are so you look generous. Then go bid on some of the following things rumored to be auctioned (last year I got an item worth $1800 for $300):
-Surfboards that used to belong to Mick, Andy and Julian (signed, of course)
-A day of surfing with Taylor Knox.
-A team rider walk-through of the Rip Curl Warehouse (you basically just grab as much merch as you can carry and run)
-Surf trips to El Salvador and Ecuador from Wavehunters
And if you don’t come for the kids, or to come to bid on awesome things, come for the beautiful women. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my 20 years of friendship with Zack, it’s that beautiful women flock to him like world titles flock to Kelly Slater. But he’s got a girlfriend so you don’t even have to compete for their attention. Maybe the tall blonde with the long-stemmed wine glass will be there again. Hope you don’t have a foot fetish.