WEST FARGO, N.D. — A North Dakota grade-school girl who raised $26,000 from selling cookies and handbags to help children and others in south-central Africa get clean water is turning to writing to raise even more money.
Sawyer Anderson, 10, of West Fargo, unveiled a book Thursday titled Water Works, which she wrote and illustrated to draw attention to the challenges that poverty-stricken villagers face in getting safe water. All proceeds from the $10 book will go toward building water wells in Africa.
Sawyer got the idea after her father took a mission trip to Zambia. Although she modified some of the stories to suit younger audiences, the book is based on real-life stories. Her inspiration was a boy her age named Brian, whose arm had to be amputated after he was bitten by a poisonous snake while fetching water. Brian's sister drowned in an old, deep well.
"The stories are just really sad and just really got to me," Sawyer said. "I just thought that this is unfair. They need help. It shouldn't be like this. They should have clean water."
She started out selling cookies at a rummage sale put on by her grandmother, who wound up baking 80 dozen of them. Her story of hawking cookies to help Brian went viral and soon people started donating money and telling her to keep the cookies. After raising about $1,300, she decided to think big.
"People just wanted to help. After that I thought, OK, I need to do more," she said. "I'm doing well so far, I need to keep on going."
Sawyer decided to design handbags out of chitenge, an African wax fabric used in many items, including a bag her dad brought home from his mission trip. She sold the bags for $50 each, which is what it costs to provide clean water for one person for a lifetime.
"One bag saves one life," said Mark Anderson, Sawyer's father. "It is incredibly powerful."
One of the bags was auctioned off at a charity event for $6,250. Sawyer also gave 20 of them away to single-parent families in the Jeremiah Program of Fargo-Moorhead, in an effort to boost morale. That's when she talked about her plans to raise $30,000 for clean water.
"It seemed like the kind of a vision you'd hear from a seasoned nonprofit leader, not a 9-year-old who loved to draw and dance," said Coiya Tompkins, development director for the Jeremiah Program. "Sawyer brings hope to the broken and inspires the rest of us who are merely doing good to stretch further to what matters."
Sawyer also has some powerful partners. Two charities, World Vision and Wellspring for the World, are matching sales of the book. And Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who played at North Dakota State, has recorded a video that will be played this weekend at a program describing the mission.