When the disastrous earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Andrea Canberg — an instructor of Tourism Management at the College of Charleston — watched helplessly with the rest of the world as the nation struggled to recover from the catastrophe. Little did she know at the time, the event would set the course for the rest of her life.
In the months that followed the quake, Haiti not only faced the task of rebuilding its cities, it also faced a widespread cholera epidemic brought on by contaminated drinking water.
The disease resulted in the death of thousands of Haitians and back in Charleston, inspired Canberg to get involved in an international movement to bring clean water and proper sanitation to communities around the world.
“It became very clear that water was an issue, not just for them but for a lot of people,” Canberg said.
Following the crisis, Canberg approached Charleston-based non-profit Water Missions International about getting involved. With the students in her Event Management class she helped raise close to $25,000 to support the organization’s efforts to establish and maintain clean water systems.
Today, Canberg is in the process of launching her own company to support global safe water projects, appropriately titled Safe Water is a Gift (SWIG). Earlier this year, Canberg partnered with Polar Bottle to create a line of custom SWIG water bottles for her organization, which she will sell to generate funding for her cause.
Canberg decided to establish SWIG last March after she and several of her students accompanied Water Missions International on a trip to Kenya to help install a clean water system in a small rural village. Seeing the impact the system had on the small community and what life was like before it was installed, Canberg said, made her realize the effect water has on a person’s daily life.
“I saw women walking for hours to get water,” she said, highlighting that women and girls often bear the task of bringing fetching clean water for their families.
Girls were not getting an education because they were getting water rather than going to class and people in the community were sick from unsanitary conditions. A simple clean water system, she said, had a life changing impact.
“When you go over and you see it you want to get connected,” Canberg said of why she decided to expand her involvement.
For SWIG, Canberg decided to focus on selling reusable water bottles, theorizing that providing water bottles to people who had access to clean water so she could help provide water to people who did not would be a perfect fit.
“I woke up one night and it just kind of hit me,” Canberg said.
After recruiting help from a handful of students and scraping together some money to cover the startup costs, SWIG was born.
A Polar Bottle customer for years, Canberg approached one of our sales associates earlier this year about designing a line of custom bottles. One bottle, featuring a colorful image of a bridge, was designed for participants in the popular Cooper River Bridge Run and will début at the Charleston race this weekend. The other bottles were launched at a similar event late last month.
Initially, Canberg explained, 50 percent of the profits from the sale of SWIG bottles will go to support global safe water initiatives through Water Missions International which typically cost between $15,000 and $25,000.
Run mainly by Canberg — a busy mother of two — and a few volunteers, SWIG is still a small organization. Its mission and the potential effect if it succeeds, however, are enormous.
Every day, millions suffer from lack of access to proper sanitation and clean water, Canberg said. By bringing clean water to these communities, SWIG and similar organizations could have a major impact on the lives of people around the world.
“A lot less people will die,” Canberg said. “And the children will be given the hope of a future.”