Instead, Parker remained for six weeks and returned to his home in Pacific Beach with the seed of an idea that eventually germinated into Walu International, a nonprofit charity teaching water sanitation methods to the people of Papua New Guinea.
“I wanted to do something, but it was rather vague,” Parker said. “I started with 20 different ideas. But I really didn’t want to just put a Band Aid on something. Then a sustainable surf tourism professor (at San Diego State University) asked, ‘What is a fundamental way to change the life of people?’”
Parker remembered the odor of human waste that pervaded Lido because the village was too remote for any water sanitation system, with people openly defecating on the beach for lack of facilities.
Parker wrote a business plan for a nonprofit charity for one of his MBA courses at San Diego State graduate school in September 2009 and within a month, Walu was incorporated.
Walu sends teams of five, including engineers, to teach 10 village leaders about the benefits and logistics of basic water sanitation, who then educate the rest of the village. Once convinced of the advantages, the locals build basic sanitation systems using their own materials and labor.
“It’s a much more compelling argument when they hear it from their own,” Parker said.
“The good part is that once everyone is educated, they take over the project. Our goal is not to be there.”
With a full-time job at the Tower 23 Hotel, the 27-year-old Parker has his hands full between traveling to Papua New Guinea and organizing fundraisers at home. However, Parker finds the work is similar on both sides.
“We also have to educate donors as well because they expect tangible results,” Parker said. “It’s all about managing donor expectations.”
The strategy works, at least for Pacific Beach resident Thomas Carey, who volunteered for Walu fundraisers after hearing about it from friends.
“Zack is a surfer and part of the young generation, and I think that entices a lot of people,” Carey said. “He’s not a guy who worked in corporate America and made his millions and then decides to start a nonprofit. He wants to do it out of his passion to help.”
As for the name, Parker said he got it from his brother Charles, who couldn’t pronounce the word “water” as a child.
“My mom still asks us if we want a glass of walu,” Parker said. “I’m glad to provide the same opportunity to the people of Papua New Guinea.”
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