In an old Peruvian folktale, a hummingbird fetches water to put out a forest fire, one drop at a time. The other animals watch and laugh at her. Then the little bird replies: “I do what I can.”

The story inspired UN waterwhich coordinates the world body’s work on water and sanitation, to launchBe the change‘ campaign for World Water Day on March 22, which calls on everyone to do what they can to change the way they use and manage water.

As part of this, the UN is mobilizing school children to do a global bouquet of origami hummingbirdswhich will be displayed at the UN headquarters during the water conference, as a way to connect the registered participants with the children whose future is at stake.

According to UN figures, 1.4 million people die annually and 74 million will have their lives shortened due to diseases related to poor water, sanitation and hygiene. In the world, one in four, or two billion people, lack clean drinking water. Almost half of all wastewater that comes out of households – from their toilets, sinks, drains and gutters – flows back into nature without removing harmful substances.

About 50 origami birds left Independence Avenue 1&2 Junior High School in Accra, Ghana, carries the commitments written by the students.

Jan de Vries Assan, a 13-year-old student, told UN News that he often starts the day by standing in a long line to get water, before school. “The water crisis has affected my academic performance,” he said, adding that by the time he is done with household chores, the morning classes will be over.

Derrick Ofori, a teacher, said his students lack drinking water and hand-washing water at school, and expressed hope that leaders gathering at the UN conference will “do what they can” to provide his communities with multiple water sources.

For his part, he promised to do what he can to preserve the precious resource at home. “It sometimes feels wrong to use water to flush the toilet or to wash hands, when we don’t even have good drinking water at school,” he said.

Almost 400 paper hummingbirds left Japan, there origamior the art of folding paper into shapes and figures, has its origins.

“I realized that, like ‘a drop in the ocean,’ what makes a big ripple all over the world is our small action,” said a student at Nishi-Uji Junior High School in Kyoto.

Jean-Yves Vesseau, principal at The École school in New York.

UN News/Grace Barrett

Jean-Yves Vesseau, principal at The École school in New York.

Also heading to the conference venue are thousands of origami birds from other parts of the world, including Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Italy, North Macedonia, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Here in New York, The École, a Franco-American school, engaged all grades from Kindergarten to 8Th grade ia World water day workshop, where students folded pieces of square paper into hummingbirds and wrote their commitments on them.

LuAnn Adams, a storyteller, introduces the story of the hummingbird at The École school in New York.

UN News/Grace Barrett

LuAnn Adams, a storyteller, introduces the story of the hummingbird at The École school in New York.

“It’s really important for kids to think about water when they’re young, because obviously our generation has a lot to answer for, and this is their planet,” said Jean-Yves Vesseau, head of schoolstressing that they need to start thinking about this problem of water with urgency and be a hummingbird to do their bit for water.

LuAnn Adams, a storyteller, who performed her hummingbird puppet show at the school, told UN News that a hummingbird doing the right thing, even alone, creates unity of “many in body and one in mind,” meaning that all other animals would eventually follow her lead when “they see the little little creature straining.”

“All of a sudden that unity that spreads like a ripple, you know, ends up in a wave and a huge wave that can do something so masterful to the world.”