Video Transcript

00:10 Scott Harrison: So good to be back here. This was absolutely one of my favorite talks last year and one of the most generous communities that I've had a chance to talk to. So this has been a little difficult to prepare for this talk because like half of you have no idea who I am or know anything about our organization, and the other half of you heard the talk last year. So I'm gonna do my best in the next 30 minutes to honor both groups and here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna talk a little bit about... If we can go to the slides, talk a little bit about my journey and the kind of a non-traditional approach, I guess, or a way that I fell into the non-profit space. I'm gonna talk about the water crisis and hopefully get you all as excited as I am about solving it. I'm gonna talk about Charity Water, and then I'm gonna talk about the impact that this community has had just in the last 12 months since the last time I was here.

01:02 Harrison: So I'll start with a little bit about my journey. I was a normal kid with a bowl cut. My parents actually used the bowl to cut my hair, [laughter] and I was born in Philadelphia, raised in the suburbs, and then this horrible tragedy happened in my family when my mom got really sick. I was four years old and there was this horrible gas leak in our home and she got carbon monoxide poisoning, and it just completely wrecked her body, her body's health. And I grew up kind of taking care of a mom who was sick all the time, who was wearing masks, and connected to oxygen and living outside because the house made her sick, pretty much everything made her sick. My parents did their best to raise me. I was an only child because obviously family planning stopped with the illness. But I was a good kid, I was raised in the church, and did everything right, until the age of 18. And at 18 like so many bad cliches, I rebelled, I grew my hair long down to my shoulders, I joined this like metal band and I moved to New York City to make it rich and famous.

02:10 Harrison: Well, the band hated each other, so we broke up. And I said, "Well, what do I do now?" I learned that you could rebel in style by filling up nightclubs and getting people drunk for a living. This is actually a job that exists in New York City, it's called a night club promoter. And you can make a ton of money doing this, working like two nights a week. So if you got the right people in the club, you could charge them $16 a cocktail, $500 for a bottle of vodka, and they'd buy like three or four just to get in the club. So this is the snapshot of my beautiful life, 10 years later not so beautiful. I'm doing massive amounts of drugs. I've got a gambling problem. I smoke two packs a day. I drink every day. I'm addicted to pornography. I hang out in strip clubs. I'm a mess. So walking away from everything, it was just like a spiral down, and at 28, this is me in some horrible club at five in the morning.

03:11 Harrison: Thankfully, on a trip to South America with all the right people and the horses, and the servants, and the girlfriend I thought I wanted, the BMW, the Rolex watch, I came to my senses. I remember I was doing tons of partying and my dad had somehow like slipped in this theology book into my luggage, and I remember hungover during the day I started reading "The Pursuit of God" and you know, hungover it was the kind of interesting push-pull, I guess. And I was so deeply convicted of like the mess I'd made with my life and I knew that something needed to change, something needed to give. So I came back to New York and I floundered for a few months. But I made this deal with God that I wanted my life to look exactly the opposite and instead of serving myself for another 10 years, what if I just gave one year and I served the poor.

04:04 Harrison: So I start applying to humanitarian organizations thinking that this was gonna be easy and I'm denied by everyone. So I'm like, "I'm ready to go. Send me on your mission." And they're like "You're a night club promoter get away from us. What is a nightclub promoter?" Well, thankfully one organization says, "if you pay us $500 a month, you can come volunteer with us." So I said "No problem, here's the check. And where you going?" And they said, "We're sailing a giant hospital ship to a place called Liberia." And I was like, "Where is that?" And they said, "It's in Africa." Well, I thought Africa was a country. I later learned that there were like 60 countries in Africa. But in the fall of 2004 at 28 years old, I leave New York City and I join this medical operation. Now, I volunteered to be their photojournalist. So I was gonna be taking pictures and writing stories about everything that these doctors did on the ship.

05:02 Harrison: And I lived in about 150 square feet with two strange roommates, guys like that worked in the engine room covered in oil. And I was way in over my head. Liberia was a disaster. A 14-year civil war had just ended. They had thrown Charles Taylor out. The people are living in apartment buildings that looked like this. They were living in houses with no glass, no doors. No electricity, no running water, no sewage, no mail in the country. And there was one doctor for 50,000 people, so if you got sick, you were in trouble. So what we did is, before the ship sailed in we would flyer the country and we'd say, "Doctors are coming. If you've got a massive tumor, if you've got flesh eating disease, if you've got a cleft palate, a cleft lip, if you've been burned during the war, turn up, and maybe our doctors can help you."

05:56 Harrison: So I remember my third day, I grabbed my camera, it's 5:30 in the morning, I jumped in the Land Rover and I'm headed to the stadium where we're gonna help people. People are gonna respond and we're gonna help them. And I know that I have 1500 surgery slots, 7000 people came. And that was really tough knowing that 5,000 people were gonna be turned away just because we didn't have enough resources, we didn't have enough doctors. People came with the most crazy conditions, when you got sick there wasn't a surgeon that you could go to. And I remember meeting women like Martha Leen who just had a benign tumor that had been growing for 10 years, and in her hands she's got this towel because if she walked out without covering her face, people threw rocks at her, they would stone her and thought she was cursed.

06:46 Harrison: About 30 minutes with our volunteer doctors, and they just gave here a new face. And it was amazing, this is what I got to do every single day. I got to take a patient home one day, and I was three hours from the ship and I was buying rice for the village chief, and I ran into this guy and his name was Harris, and he was my age almost exactly, he had a name similar to my last name, and he had a huge tumor. And we were completely full on the ship, but I had made friends with the chief medical officer, I called them on my cell phone, I said, "Doctor Gary, I found this guy, he's got a basketball tumor, can we help him?"

07:24 Harrison: And he said, "Bring him back on the ship and I'll see." The next day they took an x-ray and I watched Gary and his team operate for 8 and a half hours, and I watched Harris wake up with a new face, and it was amazing. He was feeling for the tumor that wasn't there. I got to take him home a month later after recovery, and I threw him a huge party, I gave an open bar for the entire town and dinner for 50, costing about like, $180 I think, including security. [laughter] And he was the man, he was making speeches, the whole town had written him off for dead, and here he is back in good health. He had a bunch of surgeries and they continued to work on his face.

08:08 Harrison: I signed up for another year on mercy ships because I didn't know what I was gonna do next, and I couldn't get enough of this. And on my second tour, I started following a guy out into the villages, and I learned that dirty water was making so many of these people sick. Now he was given a little extra money to dig wells and to bring clean water into these rural communities and he would show me the water sources that people were drinking from. I remember being like, "No way, bro, people are not drinking water like that. I wouldn't let my dog drink that, I wouldn't step in that water." And it was true, it was the only source of community water, and we saw it time and time again. So what he would do is he would mobilize the locals, and they would dig for months and they'd tap into the clean ground water, that was ironically right beneath their village, right underneath the swamp, and he would take me back and I could see hundreds of people drinking clean water for a few thousand dollars.

09:05 Harrison: And while these surgeries had left an indelible impression obviously on me, this guy off to the side kind of attacking the root of the problem, seemed like he was making even a bigger impact than all of our doctors and all of these expensive surgeries. I came back to New York, and my life was turned upside down. While I was there, I'd quit everything; I quit smoking, I quit drinking and I quit drugs. I'd obviously quit gambling and everything had changed in my life, and I was just really walking into this new story, walking to try to help people. I'd seen all of these problems, but I couldn't get the swamp out of my head. I just thought nobody should have to drink water like this, nobody should have to drink green algae-filled water. And that was where the idea for Charity Water was born at 30 years old.