Want a little motivation to take a break from your phone and do some good at the same time? UNICEF may have an answer.

The other evening as I was passing through the kitchen, my husband said, “You can’t touch Elizabeth’s phone.” (Elizabeth is our 15-year-old daughter.) I peered at the phone lying on the table. The screen was blue with pictures of bubbles rising up the surface. “There’s an organization that will give money to provide clean drinking water to people. The longer she doesn’t touch her phone, the more they donate.”

She left it on the table all night, instead of taking it into her bedroom with her. When she looked at in the morning, I asked, “How much?”

“Clean water for one person for 131 days,” she said.

Unicef Tap Project
The organization is UNICEF. I decide to check it out myself by going to tap.unicefusa.org. First a message: “Millions of children lack clean water. How long can you go without something less vital…like your phone?” Then the screen changes, and there are the blue bubbles and the challenge: “Go without your phone to help give clean water to children in need.” To work, the phone has to be “steady”—set down and immobile. Then the clock starts ticking. And the project’s sponsors, currently Giorgio Armani Fragrances, provide funding for water for the amount of time that people participate.

From a message on the screen, I learn that a 5-minute shower uses enough water to fill nine buckets for a child in need. After 1 minute, comes the encouragement, “Keep going! Four more minutes can raise enough for one day of water for a child in need.” Later, “Here’s a fact: 6 billion text messages are sent each day.”

The link between not sending text messages and providing water is not completely clear, but I learned that 663 million people lack access to safe drinking water. And I notice that I feel pretty good when it tells me, “You just passed 5 minutes! That’s enough funding for one day of water for a child in need.” I feel pretty good that my teenage daughter is learning these things, too.

I try to make UNICEF’s challenge a mindfulness practice by paying attention to what happens when I set the phone down with the intention of not picking it up for some time. Yes, there is a little pang of separation. But I’m glad for the opportunity it gives me to take a mindful breath or two. Later, I find myself appreciating my morning shower more and sensing more heart connection with children in another part of the world, wondering what more I can do than only set my phone down for 5 minutes.

Try it yourself and see what happens.
—Meg Levie, SIYLI VP of Teacher Development