While news of terrorist attacks and mass shootings sweep through the media, an equally heartbreaking tragedy persists in silence, every day, all over the world. More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war, according to Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon.
Hearing that fact is one reason Mount Shasta resident JahSun decided to team up with business partner Averill Strasser to form Water Charity, a 501(c)3 nonprofit committed to helping people gain access to safe drinking water worldwide.
Since incorporating in 2008, Water Charity has brought clean water to millions of people through almost 3,000 sustainable water projects in 70 different countries.
“I remember thinking that drone strikes, terrorist bombings, 9/11 and all that isn’t even half [of the victims] of water. So I thought, okay, this is definitely the issue I want to work on,” JahSun said.
Originally, JahSun and Strasser’s nonprofit vision was set on preserving dying languages with an organization called Save Languages. But after learning that some of the cultures they were trying to help didn’t even want their languages preserved, JahSun said he needed to step back and reconsider his notion of charity.
As the global water crisis was emerging in the news, JahSun began to realize how far a dollar could go when it came to water projects. “It’s a really efficient bang for your buck,” he said. “I was in the mindset that water is going to be the new thing, and I really wanted to do something with it.”
So, Strasser and JahSun took a tour of Central America, where Water Charity was born. Their first project involved distributing ceramic water filters to households surrounding the Guatemala City Dump.
While in Guatemala, they introduced themselves at the PeaceCorps base. Strasser is one of the original Peace Corps volunteers, having served in Bolivia from 1966 to 1968. That connection led to a partnership with the Peace Corps, providing what JahSun refers to as “the nuts and bolts” of how Water Charity functions.
JahSun said the pool of volunteers supplied by the Peace Corps is one reason Water Charity is so cost efficient.
It works because Peace Corps volunteers often find themselves positioned in developing countries with little to no funding available to initiate projects. “We make it clear to Peace Corp volunteers, and to return Peace Corp volunteers, that we’re willing to fund projects that are managed by Peace Corp volunteers. Then they come up with projects and pitch them to us,” JahSun explained.
Typically, Water Charity will help the volunteers revise their vision into a workable project. “Sometimes we’ll connect them with another volunteer in a similar region, and they can help each other, or I’ll help them,” he said.
JahSun said Water Charity needs to continually fight to make money, the majority of which comes from private donations through the website. “But people get really excited once they see how much they can help on their dollar,” he said.
When Water Charity first started, JahSun said the majority of their projects cost around $500. “We can drill a well for $500 and don’t have to pay for labor.”
Partnerships with water equipment companies such as Sawyer filters and Blue Pumps also helps keep overhead costs down. “We don’t need to re-invent the wheel,” JahSun said. “All the technology we need already exists, and it’s cheap.”
Once a project is approved, JahSun said they begin immediately. “Other charities wait for project funding, but if we have any money, we get started right away.”
A typical project timeline is one to three months, but some take as little as two to three weeks. “If you see a project on our website, that probably means it’s already complete,” he said, adding that countries 69 and 70 would be added to the website by the end of the month.
It’s crucial to act quickly in these situations. “Peace Corps volunteers are only there for two years. Sometimes you have seasonal issues, like in areas that flood. Besides, the time factor is really life or death for some people,” JahSun said.
As much as he loves to travel, JahSun said he doesn’t visit project sites on the company dime, preferring to manage the charity from his home in Mount Shasta. “There’s no reason for me to spend all that money to fly to another country when I can get frequent updates via Skype or video calls,” he said. “But there have been times I was just travelling on my own and stopped by a project to check in or follow up after.”
Once a project is complete, Water Charity encourages the villagers to form a water use committee to maintain it. JahSun said typically, women are in charge of bringing in water, so they’re usually the ones to maintain the new infrastructure. “For them, it’s a difference of not having to carry water for hours and hours,” he said.
Sometimes Water Charity relies on volunteers outside of the Peace Corps, which doesn’t work in a lot of countries, JahSun said.
The charity’s newest project in South Sudan is one example of a country without Peace Corps presence, and there’s a potential project forming in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The best way to support Water Charity is to donate money, but JahSun said, “If someone really wants to go above and beyond, we’re always looking for someone to manage a project.”
To learn more about Water Charity projects and the populations they serve, visit watercharity.com or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.