Charity fundraiser thirsts for funds

By Lena Shapiro

“Raising awareness without the pompous circumstance” is how Tyrone Thomas, a second-year law student, describes his fundraising efforts with the organization charity: water.

A non-profit organization based in New York, charity: water is a nonprofit organization that helps to build fresh water wells in developing nations. Inspired by a photograph of an African child holding a bottle of dirty water, Thomas began his fundraising efforts in 2008 and has taken on a project to raise money for wells in Ethiopia. The costs of building a well can run anywhere from $3,500 to $40,000. The current project looks for funds in the range of $4,000 for one well, with $250 donated so far.

To promote the project, Thomas held an event on Thursday at Cakes on Walnut, 114 N. Walnut St., Champaign. The event consisted of a presentation after which people could donate through kiosks.

“I think the presentation was very informative, and I enjoyed the video, I didn’t really know much about it,” said Evie Skiadopoulos, junior in LAS.

Working with established local organizations who have political capital and practical skill, charity: water “pumps them full of cash,” Thomas said. The organization doesn’t focus on building actual infrastructure, but rather the wells alone.

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“It’s the idea that it’s self-sustaining; people who live there can continue to maintain the wells,” said second-year law student Janine Fletcher. “They have locals doing a lot of the work. It’s great because it gives people jobs.”

The former event planner was drawn to the charity based on its approach of keeping people linked with its donations. Through resources such as Google Earth, which sends back coordinates of a well that a person donated to have built, people are given the opportunity to check on their well. “We want to make it very specific; once we’ve raised $3,500, we’ve built a well,” said Thomas.

Another appeal that drew in Thomas was that the donations made go entirely to build wells, unless donors choose to send their money to other parts of the organization.

“We want to break down every barrier to people just being able to donate,” said Thomas.

According to, its September campaign has raised $934,845 and has built 233 wells. They are looking to raise $565,155 more this month. The number of wells still needed in each country can be monitored on the Web site.

Thomas is planning a bigger event in the spring to raise funds and promote the cause.

“This is the introduction. My whole thing is to create cheerleaders, and I’m still brainstorming. The event in the spring will aim to include a large portion of the student body,” said Thomas.