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How Kyrie Irving’s Foundation Teamed With A Start-Up To Bring Clean Water To A Village In Pakistan

Kyrie Irving’s myriad of off-court works are pretty well-documented. While he tends to keep a low profile away from the court, Irving is known for using the platform he’s been given as a professional athlete to help improve the lives of others — the progress made by the K.A.I. Family Foundation, purchasing a house for George Floyd’s family in the aftermath of his murder by a police officer, the support he’s offered to numerous folks in marginalized and indigenous communities, etc.

Earlier this year, the KAIFF teamed up with the Paani Project, an organization founded by students at the University of Michigan, to bring a solar-powered water plant to the Rohal village of Tharparkar, a district in Pakistan’s Sindh province. A video posted by Paani’s co-founder, Sikander “Sonny” Khan, shows the struggles faced by people who live in the district, with one woman saying following the instillation of the plant that the organizations did not give them water, but instead, “it has given us a new life.”

In response, Irving received praise from the United States consulate in Karachi.

“It’s a cliché to me at this point because I’ve done it so much, but we take water so much for granted here, and just the little ripple effects of it,” Khan tells Dime. “If you’re over there, you literally spend a quarter of your day at times going to fresh water, and the water you’re getting isn’t even healthy. It’s not safe. But you still have to get it, because water is a necessity for life.”

This necessity is behind the work Paani does. From raising $600 via bake sales at Michigan during its first year as an organization in 2017 to where it is now, the organization is dedicated to bringing fresh water to people who live in areas where the lack of access could mean someone lives or dies, or can contract an illness by drinking what is available. As of this writing, the organization is on the verge of installing its 5,000th water system in its four years of existence.

Last month, one of those wells came via a partnership with Irving’s foundation. Khan loves basketball and viewed Irving as the kind of person with whom he wanted to work — even beyond the fact that he’s a fan of Irving as a basketball player.

“I saw that there was a lot of synergy between our mission and their mission,” Khan says. “They care so much about empowering women and children in communities, both local and abroad. I looked at their incredible track record of work, and I felt like there was an immediate connection between the impacts we were trying to create.”

He sent out an email to the KAIFF, and while Irving was tied up with the ongoing NBA season, Paani worked with the organization’s executive director, Tyki Irving.

“At the time, I was trying to think, could we have done this with anyone else?” Khan wonders. “I love all these other dudes, but I just feel like it was very out of reach to find somebody else that has that compassion for humanity, that extends to everyone.”

The well was installed on July 19. The list of things it’s able to do is longer than the list of moves Irving is able to bust out when he’s toying with a defender. It’s built in a place where it’s accessible to everyone in the community, making it easy anyone who wants to drink, clean, cook, or anything else. This does not just mean humans, as cows and other animals in the village use it as a way to nourish themselves.

Because they’re generating all of this via solar power, that energy’s also harnessed to provide light and electricity in things like community centers, schools, and mosques. At night, this light, along with hand lights Paani was able to provide, helps the populace avoid issues with things like snakes that might be harder to see when it’s dark out. Next to the solar water center, Paani set up a farm and provided seeds and instructions on how to grow things like tomatoes.

Within a few days of the project being announced at the end of July, Khan says the organization, which didn’t put out a release announcing the well, was able to raise $100,000 thanks to the coverage that came by way of Irving’s involvement. Paani does reports on a quarterly or six-month basis, meaning there’s still a bit of time before they return to the village and see exactly how things are going, even if they can make guesses on how things have gone in the aftermath of other projects.

The most important thing, though, is that the two organizations came together to make something incredible happen for a community that desperately needed it. The woman in the village’s quote about how the well gave them a new life takes on an extra level of significance in light of a report from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration that July was the hottest month in recorded history. The effects of climate change impact all of us, but for those with scant resources, things are accelerated.

As such, when asked to reflect on that quote, Khan can’t help but think of the way we take access water for granted while others aren’t afforded that luxury.

“People go into the most rough conditions to grab [water],” Khan says. “And then even the water they’re drinking is not safe for them to drink, but what else are you going to do at that point? And so now, it’s not only saving them so much time for all the traveling, from all the risks that come with having to collect the water, but now it’s like, okay, you can dedicate your time to things like crafts, you can use the water that’s over there to invest into farming, and that also helps you combat so many other issues, whether it be self-ownership, or whether it be the hunger crisis over there. Because in that particular area, there’s hundreds of children every single year who died because of a lack of food.

“And so now, if you’re able to grow a farm, that helps that helps prevent any sort of issues when it comes to like, okay, where are you going to get your next meal?” he continues. “Okay, now you have water, you have your needs to provide fruit, tomatoes, things like that. So it provides so much and I think that statement encapsulated it so well.”

As for the well itself, it’s not the only one Paani has installed with a basketball tie — another one, also located in Pakistan, is named after Irving’s old teammate with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James. Khan is a huge fan of James and Kobe Bryant, and has long considered himself a fan of the Lakers, but he’s also a fan of Kevin Durant and appreciated Irving even before joining forces with the KAIFF. With the two teams being the favorites in their respective conferences to compete for a championship in 2021-22, Khan predicts that his loyalties “probably” will be tested.

But as of now, he has an idea of which way he’s leaning.

“It’ll probably be Kyrie and the Nets,” he says.