July 27, 2005
Whitworth Alumna Works with Grammy-Winning Band
Jena Lee spends most days of the year traveling with the Grammy-winning band Jars of Clay, but she isn't a star-struck groupie. Lee, a 2004 Whitworth alumna who majored in political studies, is executive director of Blood:Water Mission, a nonprofit organization founded by Jars of Clay to promote clean blood and clean water in Africa, to reduce the impact of the African HIV/AIDS pandemic, and to address the continent's underlying issues of poverty, injustice and oppression.
As Jars of Clay tours and performs throughout the United States, Lee and band-members hold symposia on college campuses, during which they work to create awareness among young adults about health crises in developing countries. They also speak to thousands of concertgoers about poverty, faith in action, and social justice.
What began a year ago as a vision by the four members of the band has evolved, under Lee's leadership, into an effective community-development organization. In its first quarter, Blood:Water Mission began 42 new water projects in eight African countries - Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana - that provide clean water for 37,000 Africans. Lee says Blood:Water Mission will match or increase that work in its second quarter.
The organization has also helped fund a new hospice in Cape Town, South Africa, that is serving as a model for the rest of the nation in addressing HIV/AIDS care. In the first six months of Blood:Water Mission's fund-raising campaign, the organization has raised more than $400,000 for its 1000 Wells Project (the purpose of which is to build or repair 1,000 wells in urban and rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa), and garnered support from more than 3,000 new donors. In her first year as executive director, Lee has built a board of directors that include members of organizations including USAID, International Justice Mission, and African Leadership.
"I firmly believe that my experiences at Whitworth equipped me with the ability to take on this task at hand," Lee says. "At a glance, I am painfully unqualified to serve as executive director for this organization: I am the youngest person meeting with folks on Capitol Hill, in Africa and with other prominent non-governmental organizations. However, Whitworth gave me a high-quality education that integrated excellence in academics as well as in issues of faith to help me confidently and competently achieve what is required of me in the work that I am doing."
In addition to traveling with Jars of Clay to build support for Blood:Water Mission, Lee has spent several months in rural African villages, following up on projects, assessing the progress of the mission's work, building relationships and partnerships, and looking for prospective partners.
On July 2 Jars of Clay participated in the Live8 concert in Philadelphia, where the band performed for more than one million people on the eve of the G8 Summit. The Philadelphia concert was one of eight that took place that day in locations worldwide to encourage the leaders of G8 nations to eliminate Third-World debt, increase aid to Africa, and adopt fair-trade practices. Jars of Clay was invited to participate in Live8 because of its prominent activism through Blood:Water Mission, Lee says. It was the only Christian band to perform during the concert, which also included performances by premier artists including the Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5 and Destiny's Child.
Through her work with Blood:Water Mission, Lee has had the opportunity to meet leaders and representatives of groups that are working to improve the health and well-being of those living in developing countries. Lee has met such people as Ambassador Randall Tobias, head of President George W. Bush's HIV/AIDS initiative; Wes Stafford, president of Compassion International; Steve Haas, vice president of church relations for World Vision; singer Michael W. Smith, who is a ONE Campaign spokesman; Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission; the heads of DATA, an organization co-founded by U2 lead-singer Bono that addresses AIDS in Africa; and Jim Wallis, of Sojourners.
"I'm learning a tremendous amount about community-based development as well as nonprofit management, and it's been exciting to see how my studies at Whitworth have prepared me to undertake this work in America and abroad," Lee says.
Julie Riddle, public information officer, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.