When Sumayya Sulaiman learned about the water crisis in Flint, Mich., her thoughts turned to the babies who had been drinking formula mixed with lead-tainted water.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic levels of lead in Flint’s water supply. And Sulaiman, 20, a Herndon resident, wanted to do something to help.
She decided that collecting donations of bottled water to deliver to Flint would be an ideal project for the Northern Virginia chapter of Women Empowering Women — Diamonds in the Rough, which she recently started with her longtime friend, Juli Diaz-Perez. Late last month, the group set up a table outside the Giant supermarket on Dranesville Road in Sterling to collect donations of water and other supplies.
“Sumayya and I were a little apprehensive at first about whether we were going to meet the minimum that we wanted to meet,” said Diaz-Perez, 20, also of Herndon. “But as the day went by, we started getting more and more supplies, and we definitely exceeded our expectations.”
“We were completely surprised by how much people were willing to donate,” Sulaiman added.
As of last weekend, the group had collected 115 cases of bottled water and raised $597, which Sulaiman said she will use to buy more water, baby wipes and hand sanitizer to send to Flint.
The Richmond-based organization Women Empowering Women mobilizes volunteers to help meet community needs, said Galanda Shaw, who co-founded the group in 2009.
“We just look out into the community and find out where there’s a need, and then we gather a bunch of people and go out there and do our volunteer work,” Shaw said.
Sulaiman joined the organization last year, when she was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University. When she moved back to Herndon to study midwifery, she decided to start a Northern Virginia chapter with Diaz-Perez, a student at George Mason University. The two have been friends since they were classmates at Herndon Middle School.
Their first project was to assemble kits of feminine hygiene products, which they delivered to more than 50 homeless women in the District and Northern Virginia, Diaz-Perez said.
Sulaiman said that she had been looking for another project for the group when the situation in Flint made national news.
“It’s really terrible that mothers who are formula-feeding their babies have to use this lead-filled water to make formula and give it to their babies to drink, which is causing severe developmental disabilities,” Sulaiman said. “But they don’t have any choice.”
Sulaiman and Diaz-Perez had planned to drive the donated supplies to Flint after their first day of collecting donations. But they took in so much that their vehicles couldn’t hold everything. They are storing the supplies until they track down a bigger truck.
Last weekend, they were back at their table in front of the Giant.
Tahlia Cummings, of Reston, a shopper who made a cash donation, said the project isclose to her heart because she grew up in Detroit.
“It gives you a sense of humanity to see people across the country donating something that we take for granted — clean water,” Cummings said.
Juliann Cruikshank of Sterling donated several cases of bottled water. She said she had been sitting at home, wondering how to help the people in Flint.
“And then I saw this and thought, ‘What a great day!’ ” she said.
Barnes is a freelance writer.