I got to know Water For People, and their work, back in 2003 when my wife, Wende Valentine, began working for them as an intern while she earned her Masters in International Development from D.U. Upon graduation, she started working full time for Water For People, managing their programs in Asia and Africa. (She's now in charge of major donors to the organization.)
Through her, I got to see Water For People, their work, and their model...and what a huge impact they have on people's lives. And, from my travels previously to the far corners of the developing world, I already knew how essential water and sanitation are to the health, well-being and development -- or lack thereof -- of a given place.
What I saw immediately in Water For People was a dedicated organization that, unlike many others, was not out to be "sexy". Instead, they developed a model that works amazingly well, and stuck to it. Their focus is on true partnership with local communities and governments, on making sure everyone is invested and that everyone benefits. Having seen well-intended projects in places like Nepal, Tibet and India fail miserably time and again because of poor implementation and planning, Water For People's model was a breath of fresh air for me, and one I knew I wanted to support.
It's funny -- or, rather, interesting, not really funny -- that water (and its corollary, sanitation) is so essential to life and development, and yet for years it didn't really get much attention. Take, for instance, a village I lived in for a while in Nepal. It's not far from Kathmandu, the capital city; it sits up above the valley rim. Anyway, the family I lived with had electricity in their home, which is great, but no safe water nearby. The village tap was broken, and so they had to walk about 45 minutes each way to get safe drinking water. About seven years later, I went back to visit and they had repaired the water tap and the village now had a tiny internet cafe... but many villagers were still defecating in the fields.
What I'm getting at with all of that is the importance of starting at the fundamental level -- water and sanitation -- before going on to the higher levels of development. A cyber cafe is great, but not if people are spending all their time fetching water, or getting sick from water-related illness.
As for what the $2.1 million we raise will accomplish, I can't really speak directly to that. Water For People has, admirably, stayed away from the old "price of a cup of coffee will do XYZ" platform, recognizing that you can't really say that definitively. Prices, costs, etc., are different everywhere, and $5 in one region of the world goes a heck of a lot further than in another place with equal needs. That said, I have enough experience with the developing world to know that $2.1 million will go a long, long way toward changing people's lives. Keep in mind that Water For People always works with local municipalities and communities to implement each project: they have to pay a substantial amount of the cost. So, that makes the money go even further.