1.1 Billion people around the world don't have access to clean water. That would look something like dipping your thirst into the East River for your daily water needs - but not exactly. It more often has the reality of a child lugging a five gallon Jerry can several miles to a parasite laden swamp or a ground oozing mud puddle -and just the site of it would be enough to make any of us sick. Scott Harrison of Charity Water in Manhattan makes this soberly clear but while a daunting worldwide problem, a sustainable solution is not out ofreach.
With support in part from schools throughout New York City, Charity water has built almost 1,300 wells in two years, and his Charity Water Model has clearly demonstrated workability - even if its efforts have only knocked off one tenth of 1% of those effected. Financially, it amounts to $9.5 million raised - which certainly pales in comparison to the $200 to $300 Billion he estimates it would take to cover the other 99.9%. On the other hand, he puts that sum in its proper perspective. "We spend $450 billion every year on Christmas," he says.
But he would know as well as any of how one can get caught up in the sometimes superficial nature of our own lives. Growing up in a very conservative Christian home, where he was among the caregivers for his disabled mother, he says, he got out and rebelled against everything that he was.
Living large on the New York City fashion scene, he described his self-serving life as "decadent." After 10 years, he says, "I hit a wall at 28, realizing what I had become."
Looking to turn course, he volunteered as a photojournalist for an organization of doctors called Mercy Ship. This floating hospital would sail into Africa and perform life altering surgeries for people with cleft lips, facial tumors and flesh eating diseases, he says.
Taking pictures of young people that literally carried football sized tumors and horribly deformed clefts, it'seasy to understand why the continuing inclination to have an impact on developing nations persisted beyond a two year commitment.
Wanting to do something, though, that could have a larger sustainable impact, he considered the problems of famine, poverty, education and disease. Out of that approach, he realized that clean water was undeniably tied in on so many levels.
A huge portion of disease emanates from a lack of clean water, he says, while children lose the opportunity for education as they lug dirty water hours and hours every single day. In addition, as fathers focus on the farming, women's potential as a productive work force is sacrificed to the long daily march taken along side of their children.
All that begins to change as a $5,000 to $10,000 investment and the technical know how becomes part of a village's workload. Still, even with a healthy and affluent network of former acquaintances, the initial appeal of his charity ran into a wall that most organizations probably hear. "What happens to the money," he says would commonly come in deference to their support.
As a result, he modeled Charity Water after those like the Robin Hood foundation, where large donors cover all the administrative costs and 100% of the small donations go directly to projects. Of course, taking any charity's word for it is always a leap of faith but all efforts made at the specifics of your donations can be easily audited from above with Google Earth.
As is, The Financial Times, Sachs Fifth Avenue and a $50,000 donation from Hugh Jackman are among the high profile who've been caught in his wave, but Mr. Harrison's efforts with students puts the future where it truly needs to be. "We need kids to embrace this problem to solve it," he concluded.