Donnerstag, 9. April 2009

Tweeters Unite: Charity Water

Just more than two years ago I left the streets of New York City for the shores of West Africa. I'd made my living for years in the big Apple promoting top nightclubs and fashion events, for the most part living selfishly, thoughtlessly. Unhappy, I desperately needed a change in my life.

I asked myself.... What did the opposite of my life look like?

Service aboard a floating hospital with Mercy Ships, a humanitarian organization which offered free medical care in the world's poorest nations. Through surgery ships.They'd been doing it for more than 25 years, producing astonishing results -

and I'd never heard of them. Top doctors and surgeons from all over the world left their practices and fancy lives to operate for free on thousands who had no access to medical care. The organization I soon found to be full of remarkable people. The chief medical officer was a surgeon who left Los Angeles to volunteer for two weeks - 19 years ago. He never looked or went back.

I was offered the position of ship photojournalist, and immediately traveled to Africa. At first, being the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court felt strange. I traded my spacious midtown loft for a 150-square-foot cabin with bunk beds, roommates and cockroaches. Fancy restaurants were replaced by a mess hall feeding 400+ Army style. A prince in New York, now I was living in close community with 350 others. I felt like a pauper.

But once off the ship, I realized how good I really had it. In new surroundings, I was utterly astonished at the poverty that came into focus through my camera lens. Often through tears, I documented life and human suffering I'd thought unimaginable. In West Africa, I was a prince again. A king, in fact.

A man with a bed and clean runningwater and food in my stomach.
I fell in love with Liberia - a country with no public electricity, running water or sewage - Living in a leper colony and exploring remote villages, I put a face to the world's 1.2 billion living in poverty. Those living on less than $365 a year - money I used to spend on a bottle of Grey Goose vodka at a fancy club. Before tip.

Our medical staff would hold patient intake "screenings" and thousands would wait in line to be seen, many afflicted with deformities even Clive Barker hadn't thought of. Enormous, suffocating tumors - cleft lips, faces eaten by bacteria from water-borne diseases. I learned many of these medical conditions also existed here in the west, but were taken care of - never allowed to progress. The amount of blind people with no access to the 20 minute cataract surgery that could restore their sight - all part of this new world.

Over the next eight months, I met patients who taught me the meaning of courage. Slowly suffocating to death for years and yet pressing on, praying, hoping, surviving. It was an honor to photograph them. It was an honor to know them.


For me, charity is practical. Sometimes easy, sometimes inconvenient, always necessary. It is the ability to use one's position of influence, relative wealth and power to affect lives for the better. charity is singular and achievable.

There's a biblical parable about a man beaten near death by robbers. Stripped naked, lying roadside - people pass him by, but one man stops. He picks him up and bandages his wounds. He puts him on his horse and walks alongside until they reach an inn. Checks him in and throws down his Amex. "Whatever he needs until he gets better."

Because he could.

The dictionary defines charity as simply the act of voluntarily giving to those in need. The word comes from the latin "caritas," or simply, love. In Colossians 3, the Bible instructs readers to "put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness."

Although i'm still not sure what that means, i love the idea. To wear charity.

Join us as we explore living differently.

Scott Harrison

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02. Feb. / 09. April 2009

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