"Every 21 seconds a child dies from unclean water," Katherine Adams tells PEOPLE

By Tiare Dunlap
Updated August 18, 2015 05:50 PM
Paper for Water

When Katherine and Isabelle Adams learned that millions of girls around the world missed out on receiving an education because their days were spent retrieving clean water for their families, they knew they had to do something.

The sisters from Dallas, Texas, immediately set a goal to raise $500 to help fund construction of a new well to bring clean water to a village in Ethiopia. And they decided to raise the money in an unconventional way – by selling origami.

The girls’ father, Ken Adams, taught them the paper-folding art at an early age.

“My dad is half Japanese, and in Japan they make a lot of origami,” Katherine, 9, tells PEOPLE. “So he taught me when I was four, and then he taught everybody else in the family.”

“I love that it’s something easy and fun that pretty much anybody can do,” adds Isabelle, 11.

In November 2011, the Adams sisters set up a table at a local Starbucks to sell origami Christmas ornaments, and they sold out in one night. Within the next month, the girls managed to raise $10,000, which was enough to completely fund a well.

“It was originally supposed to be about a one-month project,” Katherine tells PEOPLE. “But it was so exciting to know that we had actually helped people and probably saved quite a few lives.”

Eager to continue their work, the sisters went on to found the non-profit, Paper for Water, with help from their father. Together, the young girls set their hearts on eradicating global thirst through fundraising and spreading awareness.

“Every 21 seconds a child dies from unclean water,” Katherine says.

“One of the things we try and do is not make ourselves famous but speak for the people who don t have clean water,” Isabelle adds.

In the almost four years since they started their project, the sisters have raised over $655,000 selling origami Christmas ornaments, cranes and cards. They say the incredible volume wouldn’t have been possible if not for the help of hundreds of dedicated volunteers.

“A six-piece ornament takes 10 minutes to make, and the one that we sell the most takes one to two hours,” Katherine says.

The proceeds have funded new wells in nine countries – from Uganda to India to Mexico. In December 2013, the Adams sisters traveled to India and visited four wells they helped build in schools.

“It was just amazing because they have so little. All the schools we went to had dirt floors, no electricity, no running water, no desks, and yet they were all so happy to be getting an education,” Isabelle says.

This month, the girls visited a Navajo reservation in Smith Lake, New Mexico, to learn how they could help more than 250 households without running water.

“It was a cool experience because we got to ride around in a big truck delivering water to people who need it,” Katherine says.

Paper for Water is currently trying to help fundraise to add a well to this underserved community so that every household can have access to clean water.

“I think one of the best things you can do is tell more and more people about the issue,” Isabelle tells PEOPLE. “Most people take water for granted, and they don t even think that maybe people around the world – and even in the U.S. – might not have it.”