Scott Harrison is the
founder and CEO of charity: water.
Scott spent 10 years as a nightclub promoter in New York
City before leaving to volunteer on a hospital ship off the coast
of Liberia, Africa as a volunteer photojournalist. Returning home to New York City two years
later, he founded the non-profit organization charity: water in 2006. Turning
his full attention to the global water crisis and the one billion people
without clean water to drink, he created public installations and innovative
online fundraising platforms to spread international awareness of the issue. In
five years, with the help of more than 250,000 donors worldwide, charity: water
has raised over $60 million and funded 6,185 water projects in 19 developing
nations. Those projects will provide over 2.5 million people with clean, safe
drinking water. Scott was named an Utne Reader Visionary in 2009.
This post was written by Viktoria Harrison, Creative Director of charity: water.
A little over a year ago, Rachel was your average nine-year-old. She
loved Taylor Swift and had a secret crush on Justin Bieber, although
she’d never admit it. She had a loving family and a heart that wanted to
solve every problem she saw in this world. Once, she cut off all her
hair and donated it to make wigs for kids who had cancer. So when she
sat in church one day and heard Scott Harrison from charity: water give a
talk about how kids her age in Africa didn’t have clean water to drink,
she immediately decided to help.
With her mom’s encouragement, she created a fundraising page
on mycharitywater.org, telling her family and friends that she didn’t
want presents for her ninth birthday. Instead, she asked them to donate
$9, as she was turning 9. Rachel wanted kids like her to have clean
water to drink.
She had a big goal: to raise $300 and give 15 people clean drinking
water. She fell a little short, raising $220, and told her mom that
she’d try harder next year.
A month later, Rachel died from injuries sustained in a tragic car
accident on highway I-90 near Seattle, Washington. A trailer had
jack-knifed into a logging truck, sending logs tumbling down the
freeway. More than a dozen cars were caught in the pile-up, and the
trailer smashed into the back of Rachel’s car. She was the only person
in her family critically injured, and on July 23rd, 2011, she was taken
off life support.
When the news spread about Rachel’s story and her birthday wish,
people all around the world began to donate on her page. Some gave $9,
some $19, leaving comments like “This is the rest of my month’s
salary…..” A month later, 30,000 people had given more than $1.2
All of us at charity: water were blown away by the generosity. The
comments and notes that were left on Rachel’s page caused many tears in
the coming months, and Rachel’s story continues to inspire us today.
Last year, we sent 100% of the money from Rachel’s campaign to our
partners in Tigray, Ethiopia, and they began to construct water projects
for people in need. We made a promise to Rachel’s mom that one day
she’d come with us to Ethiopia to meet some of the people Rachel’s wish
Yesterday, we fulfilled that promise.
On the one-year anniversary of Rachel’s death, we woke up early, at
5:30 A.M. We piled into Land Rovers and began the two-hour drive to Kal
Habel village in the north of Ethiopia. We heard the community had
planned both a memorial service in Rachel’s honor and a celebration of
We didn’t know it then, but honor would become the theme of our entire day.
First, we visited a church. The priests there knew all about our
arrival, and they knew Rachel’s story. They told us they had been up
since midnight, praying that God would keep Rachel’s soul in peace. A
photo of Rachel stood on the ledge, surrounded by candles. We paused,
listening to the priests recite their prayers, singing ancient Ethiopian
hymns over Samantha and her parents.
From the church, we walked to a new well nearby that was funded by
Rachel’s donations. We cut the ribbon and watched water splash into
bright yellow jerry cans. This water didn’t have dirt or leeches in it,
and it didn’t carry deadly disease. It wasn’t far away from people’s
homes, and they didn’t have to walk for hours to find it. It was right
there, in their village, and it was crystal clear. To prove it, Samantha
took a long drink.
The children wrote notes about Rachel, and handed them one by one to
Samantha. A famous priest read a poem he wrote especially for the
occasion, and then the village gave gifts to Rachel’s family. A mother
from the village made a speech and said Rachel’s story would be a lesson
to their children. She said that all the mothers in her village were
praying for Samantha. Another community sectioned off a plot of land and
called it Rachel’s Park. They invited Samantha and her grandparents
each to plant a tree in Rachel’s memory.
Near the well, our local partners, Relief Society of Tigray (REST),
commissioned a marble sign. It read “Rachel’s great dream, kindness and
vision of a better world will live with and among us forever.” Her photo
was nested in the marble, a permanent fixture in Kal Habel village. It
will serve as a reminder to all the mothers who draw water from this
well that a mother’s tragic loss and a child’s dream brought clean water
to their village.
60,000 people in more than 100 villages will drink clean water because of Rachel’s wish.