Leon McLaughlin Community Warrior


by By / KING 5 News


Posted on March 6, 2009 at 9:28 AM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 23 at 8:47 AM

Video: Meet Community Leader: Leon McLaughlin

Every year around the world, an estimated 2 million children die from drinking contaminated water.

It's a statistic Leon McLaughlin says he simply can't live with, so a few years ago he vowed it would be his life's mission to bring clean water to the more than 1 billion people around the world who don't have it.

That promise led him to La Nina, Bolivia this past December, a city named for the storm that devastated the village and left its people with contaminated water.

Leon's journey to the remote village on the edge of the Amazon forest began with a simple idea he shared with others in an unlikely place - his shoe shine stand in Seattle.

Earning $3.00 to $6.00 for every pair of shoes he shined, Leon saved his money and formed his own company. The former coffee-cart maker went back to school to take water purification, repair and maintenance classes. He then turned to his clients for help. "The customers I had were top engineers, scientists, environmental specialists so I would talk to these people to help me design a machine."

Seattle businessman Anthony Thomas was eager to help. Thomas knew a manufacturer who could supply Leon with plastic bottles. "With his good heart, he just draws you into the project with him. It's just that love for everybody else. It was a no-brainer."

The result was a water purification system that can be assembled almost as easily as Legos. It operates by electricity or solar power and can produce 740 gallons of water an hour.

A call to Seattle-based World Vision led Leon to Bolivia where he had to prove to the relief agency that his water system would work in disaster areas devastated by floods. "Within a half an hour, we had this machine up and running and brining clean water to the village. The people were so happy"

Leon's Water Project will eventually bring 20 water systems to Bolivia, a country where one-third of the people do not have access to clean drinking water.

Ten-year-old girl Arelda Gutierrez said, "Before we used to have illness. Not anymore. Now we can eat. We can cook. We can take baths."

Now, Leon can rest easier, knowing he's making a real difference in the lives of these children. "I knew that I wasn't going to let those children down when they wanted me to get the word out that there are people in the world that just want clean water ... they're not asking for a million dollars. They're not asking for a car and this and that. They just want clean water."

For more information about the water project in Bolivia, go to or