Nonprofit quenches need for clean water

“Water changes everything,” according to the slogan of Charity Water, a nonprofit organization providing 890 wells to communities in dire need of clean water. The founder of Charity Water, Scott Harrison, addressed the College Nov. 12, informing students of the dire need for clean water in other countries.

At age 28, Harrison needed a change. Working on the New York club scene, Harrison had developed a lifestyle corrupted by alcohol and “every drug short of heroin,” he said. After a chance encounter with a bouncer, Harrison began to rethink his lifestyle. After being rejected by several Christian charities, Harrison found himself traveling to Liberia as a photographer for Mercy Ship, a floating hospital specializing in tumors and flesh-eating diseases.

On his first day in port in Liberia, Harrison encountered 7,000 people waiting to see a doctor. However, only 1,500 could be seen, so 5,500 patients were turned away.

It is there Harrison learned that 80 percent of the medical issues affecting the Liberian population were caused by bad water, including death due to diarrhea and parasites.

“1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water,” Harrison said, “One in six people in the world do not have access to clean water.”

After Harrison returned to New York City, Mercy Ship featured a showing of Harrison’s photographs in a gallery that raised $96,413. After another brief stint in Liberia, Harrison left Mercy Ships to try to improve the quality of life in Africa.

Thus, Charity Water was born. While in Liberia, Harrison learned that providing clean water to a town is as simple as $5,000 and some hard labor. On his 31st birthday, Harrison threw a party in which he charged $20 for admission, leading to Charity Water’s first well.

Charity Water quickly escalated from there. After raising awareness in New York through business contacts, Harrison began to develop outdoor exhibitions and market bottles of “Charity Water” priced at $20 per bottle. Eventually, Charity Water filmed public service announcements and received publicity through a seven-day display in the Saks Fifth Avenue store.

Today, Charity Water is active in 13 countries including India, Bangladesh and Haiti. It has raised more than $27 million to date. However, Harrison said that once the organization has raised $100 million, it will have only served less than 5 percent of the population in need of clean water.

The program was sponsored by the New Jersey Christian Fellowship (NJCF) and Water Watch in “an effort to coincide with other organizations,” Josh Hanke, large group coordinator of NJCF, said. “The work (Harrison) does is powerful.”