Behind the Folds: Bringing Water to the Thirsty Through Origami

Published April 14, 2021 at 9:25am.
Story by Ashley Baker. Photos by Meredith Embry.

Katherine and Isabelle Adams are no ordinary teenagers. When they just were five and eight, the sisters founded Paper for Water—a nonprofit that brings water to the thirsty through making and selling origami ornaments. 

Katherine (L) and Isabelle Adams (R), founder of Paper for Water.

Katherine (L) and Isabelle Adams (R), founder of Paper for Water.

The Adams sisters first learned about the global water crisis through their next-door neighbor. She explained to them how many girls their age spent their days hauling water back and forth to their homes, instead of attending school. They also learned that every fifteen seconds, a child around the world dies because they do not have access to clean water. Katherine and Isabelle were immediately burdened by the desire to help end this water crisis. 

Origami has been a part of Katherine and Isabelle’s lives from a young age. As children, they spent hours folding origami with their father, who is Japanese. It was a special bonding activity between the girls and their dad. When they learned children were dying as a result of no access to clean water, they realized their origami hobby might just be their opportunity to help children have access to clean water.


So they began making origami ornaments. 

Their first unofficial fundraiser took place in November of 2011. With the help of their parents, Katherine and Isabelle set up a table at a local Starbucks to sell their origami ornaments to raise money for clean water. Their goal was to raise $500 to donate. That night they sold out their ornaments and raised over $800. By the end of 2011, the girls had raised over $10,000 which fully funded the digging of a well in Ethiopia. 

Photos by Seth Harwood.

It’s been ten years since Katherine & Isabelle first learned about the global water crisis. Paper for Water has raised more than two-and-a-half million dollars which makes these sisters two of the youngest CEOs of a million-dollar nonprofit. They have helped fund over 300 water projects in over 20 countries – Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mexico, the United States. They’ve partnered with Dig Deep, as well as Living Water International, organizations that operate under the mission that giving someone access to clean water changes everything for them. “Everything begins with water. It’s the foundation for all other levels of development. Access to safe water can transform—health, sanitation, education, justice issues, and livelihoods.” The team at Living Water International connects Paper for Water to countries that have a great need for water projects in their region.

Funding water wells is not the only mission of Paper for Water. Katherine and Isabelle travel around the world educating and providing kids and adults, the opportunity to make a tangible difference. Each audience is allowed to engage by folding paper while listening to the Adams sisters share about the global water crisis. The girls have found that folding paper provides their volunteers with a personal connection to the children who need their help.

While Katherine and Isabelle hope to see the global water crisis end in their lifetimes, they also hope to remind anyone they come in contact with that they too have the power to transform someone’s life for good. “You don’t have to be a billionaire or a celebrity to make a permanent change in the life of someone thirsty,” Katherine says.

You can change the life of someone thirsty by partnering with Paper for Water and their clean water initiative. You can participate in one of their monthly Paper Parties by helping fold origami, donating to their cause so they can drill more wells, or joining them in their mission to make as many people as possible aware of this issue. 

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