Our new President Gurminder Singh got off to a cracking start to the Rotary year by presenting a cheque for £1,000 to Katie Alcott, chief executive of FRANK Water, a registered charity dedicated to providing safe drinking water across six states in India, and since April 2017, in Nepal as well. The funds for our cheque represent the proceeds of a Bollywood Evening previously organised by the Club, specifically for water projects in India.
Katie travelled up to Leeds from her home in Herefordshire to tell us about Frank Water. It’s an interesting story. At the age of 19, after doing a foundation course in art in Cheltenham Katie decided to broaden her experience by doing a year’s teaching abroad. She found herself at a remote community school in Kashmir, teaching subjects where knowledge of the local language was not necessary [for example, Scottish country dancing]. She was puzzled at the erratic attendance of pupils until it was explained to her that there were ‘water issues’. She then learned that the local water supply came from a combination of a contaminated well and a river polluted by animal waste. Katie was then invited for a meal by a local teacher where she drank water that she was assured had not only been filtered twice but had been boiled. In spite of these precautions, Katie contracted dysentery and became very ill. She came to realise that people were daily contracting fatal illnesses which were entirely preventable, and she resolved to do something about it herself.
Back in England, having completed a degree in fine art, she set up a company which would apply its profits to helping to supply safe drinking water to some of the 663 million people worldwide who still lack access to this basic human right. ‘FRANK Water’ was founded in 2005, to sell bottled spring water sourced from an artesian well in Devon, at music festivals and other outlets. The water was explicitly marketed on the basis that profits would be used to fund safe drinking water for those communities that needed it most. Katie had considered donating the profits to charities such as UNICEF or Water Aid, but then realised that she could help to create something special herself. In 2006 she funded her first project in India, registered FRANK Water as a charity, and since then has gone from strength to strength.
With an enthusiastic team of volunteers, the charity has collaborated with five NGO partners in India, and now one in Nepal, where they have supported communities to build gravity fed water systems, install bore wells and pumps, and have delivered workshops in handwashing, hygiene, rooftop rainwater harvesting and filtration. They've helped families claim their rights to land, sanitation and education. Through partnerships in the UK, they have been able to access diverse and effective networks of campaigners. Katie has calculated that the charity has been able to reach more than 300,000 people with safe water and sanitation.
In proposing a vote of thanks on behalf of the Club, Carol Jordan rightly paid tribute to Katie’s passion and dedication, which has helped so many people. I couldn’t help thinking that the world would be a better place if we all reacted as Katie did to being poisoned at a dinner party, rather than to make the currently fashionable claim for compensation.