What could be more human than our universal need for clean drinking water?
Recently, I met the CEO and founder of Charity:Water, Scott Harrison, at an international conference on fundraising. Scott delivered an impassioned and inspiring talk about his non profit. Charity:Water brings clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. In six years, they have funded 6,185 projects in 19 countries. The result? 2,525,000 people now have clean drinking water. His model is brilliant. Charity:Water operates on the premise of accountability. This happens on two levels. One, the organization has two pots of money – one for operations and one for donations and never have the two met. The staff work with major donors and partners who have invested in the mission to fill the ‘well’ so that all operational costs are covered. What does this do? It means that people like myself and many of my friends can be assured that 100% of our contribution to clean water projects will be used for that very purpose. It brings people back to the table of philanthropy. Another level of accountability shows itself in Charity:Water’s stewardship of its donors. They show donors through video footage, photos and stories where their money went and how it has impacted the lives of others. Their tag line? Water changes everything.
Diseases that live in dirty water collected by nearly one billion people in the world including Canada and the US, but particularly in developing areas of Sub Saharan Africa, Southeast Asian and Latin America, are the cause of many health related problems. Every 19 seconds a mother loses a child to a water related illness and many children do not make it to their 5th birthday. 30,000 people will die this week alone because they do not have clean drinking water. But, the crisis extends to quality of life in other ways. People, primarily women and children, spend nearly three hours a day walking to swamps, ponds and rivers that contain dirty water. The time that is spent collecting water means that children are not learning to read and write and women are not earning an income. Education, health and poverty are issues that could be vastly improved buy access to clean water. The solution? $20 can bring clean water to one person. Charity:Water takes the money donated by people like me and puts it into projects that create water filtration systems and drilled or hand-dug wells. The results are amazing. Now, people have a clean water point that is close to their home. This creates opportunity. Children are able to go to school and women are able to stay at market longer, earning more money for their families. If communities had local, clean water points, Africa alone could save 40 billion hours each year. This number equates to the entire annual work force of France.
But, these are just statistics, right? Right. What really spoke to me was the story Scott told us about a woman named Helen Apio. She, like me and so many mothers I know, always puts everyone else’s needs ahead of her own. She would wake before dawn to walk nearly a mile to the nearest water point where she would wait with hundreds of other women who were also walking a great distance to the only clean water point. She spent most of her day walking and waiting. And then she would bring the water home and have to make decisions on how to use it. Would she water her garden? wash her children’s school uniforms? cook a meal? or drink the water? With the limitation on how much she could carry, difficult decisions had to be made and she always came last. And now with a clean water point in her community, she is “happy now…I have time to eat, my children can go to school. And I can even work in my garden, take a shower and then come back for more water if I want! I am bathing so well.” She said, “I am beautiful.”
Water restores dignity. Water changes everything.
Hearing Scott speak transformed my world view, inspired me as a philanthropist and as a fundraiser. I listened to another mind blowing talk at this same conference where fundraising professional Tony Myers said that philanthropy does not belong to us. It does not belong to the Brits or the Canadians or even the Americans. It belongs to the world. It is part of the human experience to give and to receive. We should know how to do both.
I’m an Aries. In fact, it’s my birthday today. Usually, I ask my friends and family for diamonds, rubies, sapphires and spa appointments. But, today, on my 41st birthday, I am taking Scott Harrison’s challenge and am giving up my birthday. All I’m asking for this year is water because water changes everything.
Click here if you want to be part of a movement that can change everything…