By Tiare Dunlap |
Professional skateboarder Nyjah Huston knows the importance of access to clean water – because he’s lived without it himself.
“When I was 13 years old, my family and I lived on a farm in Puerto Rico that didn’t have clean running water all the time,” the 20-year-old tells PEOPLE. “So my brothers and I would have to walk to the river to get the water we needed for the day – water is not the easiest thing to carry for miles and miles when you’re a little kid.”
“I consider myself really lucky to have had such a good life,” Huston says. “Drawing from personal experience and also knowing that so many people – kids – are still living without sanitary water makes you want to make it easier for them.”
In January, Huston invited a group of pro-skater friends to Ethiopia to help repair wells and build the country’s first-ever skate park. When he and his mom, Kelli Huston, told skateboarding legend Tony Hawk about their plans, Hawk decided to come along.
“We were all so excited that he wanted to be a part of what we were doing,” Huston says. “He was a huge help and his passion and warmth for people is unlike anything I’ve seen.”
Together, the group repaired 15 wells and helped build a skate park that will be used by hundreds of kids in Addis Ababa and its neighboring villages.
“When we were finally done and the wells started working, the kids ran up to the gushing water,” Huston says. “They had never seen that before.”
Huston calls the experience “a dream come true.”
“I had seen some photos of kids skating in Ethiopia, so I knew there was a love for skateboarding [there], they just didn’t have any ramps or anything,” Huston tells PEOPLE. “To go and build them their first official cement ramp was an honor.”
Huston says he hopes skateboarding will impact the kids in “all the positive ways the sport has impacted me.”
“It’s going to keep them out of trouble, keep them busy during the day, and the best part is that the sport is challenging,” Huston says. “The challenge builds determination and encourages perseverance. Also, it’s a group sport, so it’s community-driven. I just hope it becomes one more way to bring happiness to them.”
A documentary about the trip called Dream Big will air on ESPN and ABC on Saturday, July 11.