As a Manhattan club promoter who worked at boîtes such as Lotus, Nells and Marquee, Harrison, now 32, partied into the wee hours. Now he calls that period in his life "selfish and sycophantic" and is out to eradicate the problem of Third World countries not having enough clean water through his nonprofit organization Charity: Water.
Tonight will mark the premiere of a public service announcement starring Jennifer Connelly, who takes her kids along to collect water with two jerricans from the Central Park Reservoir. It is directed by "Hotel Rwanda" director Terry George; the cinematographer is Ellen Kuras. The public service announcement will air on Fox during "American Idol's Idol Gives Back" this evening. The musician Beck has lent his music to another PSA.
In addition, Charity: Water has teamed up with Saks Fifth Avenue. Starting Mother's Day, the retailer will sell black rubber bracelets with the Charity: Water logo. Through its stores, catalogues and Web site, the store will educate its shoppers about the organization and also offer wells for sale. All proceeds from the $5 bracelets will go to drilling for clean water. A client who buys a well can choose where it goes and Harrison will provide GPS coordinates so it can be looked up on Google Maps.
"He is an evangelist," said Terron Schaefer, Saks' group senior vice president of creative and marketing. "This is so much more than grassroots."
Harrison also is in talks to partner with other fashion companies.
The Philadelphia native's life took an about face when he decided to volunteer in Third World countries. In October 2004, the New York University photography major brought along his camera on a trip to Liberia and caught on film people suffering from contaminated water-related illnesses such as diarrhea, schistosomiasis and trachoma. "One in six people don't have access to clean water," said Harrison, adding that Africa, India and Bangladesh are the main problem areas.
Clean water can be found nearly everywhere by way of underground lakes. A hand-dug well that can go 60 feet down costs $5,000 and a well with steel casing can cost up to $15,000 and procure seven million glasses of water a year for up to 1,000 people. In the past two years, the organization has raised $3 million and built 474 wells.Harrison also sells Charity: Water bottles for $20 at luxury salons, hotels and spas around the world. All of the proceeds go to the cause. Charity: Water is privately funded.
"I've sold $350 bottles of vodka at clubs for 10 years," mused Harrison. "I had a luxury experience. A $20 bottle of water is luxury."
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