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Scott Harrison

Scott Harrison

Posted: September 8, 2010 02:13 PM

Failure on our Birthday

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I'm writing my first Huffington Post piece from a small village deep in the Central African Republic a day after my 35th birthday.

I was here for our annual satellite Live Drill event, and was expecting another amazing charity:water story, and our 200th completed water project in the country. The Bayaka people of Moale Village, Central African Republic, have been waiting for water for more than a decade. Our local drilling partner ICDI and the community had tried twice before to reach clean water, but couldn't get deep enough. So on my birthday and charity:water's fourth anniversary, our team traveled to the field to try again. Together with ICDI, we consulted hydro-geologists who looked at satellite pictures and local maps. They believed clean water lay somewhere between 500 and 700 feet beneath Moale. ICDI brought in a new drilling rig that could dig up to 800 feet, and we all felt sure we could hit water that day. Unfortunately, we never made it that far. In what was by far the most challenging drill we've ever witnessed, the team came up short after 30 straight hours of drilling, when a second borehole caved in.

It was a heartbreaking and messy day. We'd hoped to share footage of a joyful village celebrating a successful drill with everyone back home watching. But we didn't achieve that. Instead, our Live Drill video showed the reality and challenges we face on the ground. It showed that drilling is not a simple task, especially in a such a remote country. And it showed that even with a whole village hoping and praying, a whole drill rig team working long hours and a group of geologists supporting the decision to dig where we did -- sometimes it just doesn't work.

We failed. And failure is a scary word for nonprofits and businesses. I suppose technically, the Live Drill in Moale wasn't an absolute failure, since we'll be returning to Moale at some point in the future to try again. But from a media standpoint, it certainly wasn't what our donors and supporters expected of us. We've broadcasted the Live Drill twice before from the field on charity:water's anniversary to celebrate the start of our September Campaign. Both times, our drill rigs hit massive aquifers, water gushed from the ground, communities celebrated and we got to thank our supporters on video with clean water dripping from our faces.

This time, the scene closed with a silent rig behind us. The hardhats lay scattered on the ground, and drillers who'd given their all to a project sat defeated near the "almost" well. We were exhausted and it showed. I suppose we had another choice besides telling the truth and letting everyone down -- reschedule the broadcast and find a success story from another village in the days to come -- but honestly, we never entertained that idea.

On Tuesday night, thousands watched the Live Drill breakdown. What would people think? Yes, life is messy and imperfect, but everybody wants their favorite charities to be perfect, right? After all, I founded charity:water intent on bringing millions of disenchanted and disengaged people back to the table of giving. People want to give to stuff that works, right?

Yes and no.

Our staff was surprised to see the responses to our Live Drill video and struggles were overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. We got Tweets saying, "We appreciate your transparency." We got Facebook comments that said, "I think this is perhaps even more important than sharing your successes." We even had a field engineer chip in: "Even with the best planning, scientific data and equipment, you can have a myriad of problems... thank you for sharing the challenges."

Overall, this video seems to have resonated more than any of the happy endings we've broadcast in the past. And yesterday, we saw our best traffic day in the history of charity:water.

Perhaps people wanted to see us fail. Perhaps it was a triumph for the cynics and apathetics. But I don't think so. I think people just want to know the truth.

- Scott Harrison

Live Drill - No water for our birthday in Central African Republic from charity: water on Vimeo.

Today was another day, and the September Campaign is just getting started. Already, fundraisers have helped raise more than $290,000 towards our goal to give 90,000 people living in this country clean drinking water. 100% of the money goes straight to fund clean water projects in Central African Republic. Learn more about our September Campaign.