Picture of Caring

One of Sylvia Lai's great passions in life is raising awareness of the global water crisis. So when she came across the "Dirty Little Secret" photo contest, sponsored by Skyo, The Thirst Project and Follett, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I knew right away that I wanted to enter,” Lai said. "Even if I didn't win the contest it was a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness for the global water crisis.”

With a single, creative photo, and support from her family, friends and the online community, Lai achieved both goals. She won the photo contest and earned an all-expense paid trip to The Thirst Project's 5th Annual Thirst Gala. The event, hosted by actress Jennifer Garner, was held June 24 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“I was ecstatic when I found out I had won,” Lai said. "I knew attending the Thirst Gala would allow me to get more involved in helping to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in need.”

Lai (MSE '15), who was born in St. Louis and raised in Malaysia before moving to Florida in high school, said she has a “great respect for water and marine life.” As she learned about the detrimental effects plastic pollution was having on the ocean—as well as the fact that almost 1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water—she took action.

“If we do not do something about protecting our environment, we are eventually going to lose privileges like drinking clean water or breathing clean air,” Lai said. “This realization has motivated me to spread the word about preserving the environment, and to encourage others to practice simple sustainable habits, such as drinking water from a reusable bottle as opposed to a disposable one.”

A water bottle—a very, dirty water bottle—was integral in sending out her message. In the contest-winning photo, Lai is holding a bottle containing dirty water with a quote from Mohandas Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Lai received more than 2,700 votes.

Although the gala had stars like Garner and cast members from Glee and Twilight in attendance, Lai said her most memorable moments were interacting with fellow clean water advocates including The Thirst Project founder, Seth Maxwell, and Sibusiso Shiba, The Thirst Project's ambassador in Swaziland.

“I am so grateful to have had this life-changing opportunity to attend the Thirst Gala, and I will cherish this experience for the rest of my life.”