Charity: water (www.charitywater.org) focuses on life’s most basic need—water. But to significantly cut down disease rates in the developing world, water is just the first step. Almost everywhere charity: water builds a freshwater well, it also requires sanitation training. In some communities, it build latrines; at the very least, it promotes simple hand-washing stations made with readily available materials. Clean water can greatly alleviate the world’s disease burden, but only with education and hygienic practice. Charity: water is committed to using water as a gateway to sanitary living. Charity: water is a nonprofit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. One hundred percent of public donations directly fund water projects. As founder and CEO Scott Harrison notes,
In 2004, I left the streets of New York City for the shores of West Africa. I’d made my living for years promoting top nightclubs and fashion events. Desperately unhappy, I needed to change. Faced with spiritual bankruptcy, I wanted desperately to revive a lost Christian faith with action and asked the question: What would the opposite of my life look like?
I signed up for volunteer service aboard a floating hospital with a group called Mercy Ships, a humanitarian organization which offered free medical care in the world’s poorest nations. Operating on surgery ships, they’d built a 25-year track record of astonishing results yet I’d never heard of them.
Top doctors and surgeons from all over the world left their practices and fancy lives to operate for free on thousands who had no access to medical care. I soon found the organization to be full of remarkable people. The chief medical officer was a surgeon who left Los Angeles to volunteer for two weeks—23 years ago. He never looked or went back. I took the position of ship photojournalist, and immediately traveled to Africa.
I was utterly astonished at the poverty that came into focus through my camera lens. Often through tears, I documented life and human suffering I’d thought unimaginable.
I fell in love with Liberia—a country with no public electricity, running water or sewage—Spending time in a leper colony and many remote villages, I put a face to the world’s 1.2 billion living in poverty. Those living on less than $365 a year—money I used to blow on a bottle of Grey Goose vodka at a fancy club. Before tip.
Our medical staff would hold patient intake “screenings” and thousands would wait in line to be seen. Enormous, suffocating tumors—cleft lips, faces eaten by bacteria from water-borne diseases. I learned many of these medical conditions also existed here in the West, but were taken care of—never allowed to progress. The amount of blind people without access to the 20-minute cataract surgery that could restore their sight astonished me.
For me, charity is practical. It’s sometimes easy, more often inconvenient, but always necessary. It’s the ability to use one’s position of influence, relative wealth and power to affect lives for the better. Charity is singular and achievable.
Upon moving back to New York City in 2006, I founded charity: water.
“Scott’s Story.” http://www.charitywater.org/about/scotts_story.php