For the second year in a row, Malibu residents attending a local Thirst Project fundraiser couldn’t help but open their wallets for the LA-based nonprofit. The group, headed by 30-year-old founder and CEO Seth Maxwell, has been dedicated to clean water projects around the world since 2008. Thirst Project is currently active in India, Uganda, El Salvador, Kenya and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), with emphasis on eSwatini.

At last year’s fundraiser, which, like this year’s, was held at the Point Dume home of Will and Jennifer Kassoy, three individual donors each gave enough money to drill a water well for an entire village of 500 people. This year, a video documenting those three newly drilled water wells in three different villages was part of the festivities—allowing last summer’s donors to see exactly where and how their money had been spent. The video also helped demonstrate the amazing changes that clean water made in the lives of those villagers. 

Thirst Project

Malibu local Will Kassoy shares his home and thoughts with guests attending the second annual Thirst Project fundraiser on Saturday night.

One pair of donors, Ross and Cindy O’Bryan, donated $12,000 to drill a water well for an entire village last summer. 

“It really moved us to see the impact of the donation, which keeps people from spending many hours a day walking to get water,” Ross said.

Co-host Will Kassoy has been serving as a Thirst Project board member for the past five years after meeting Maxwell at a conference and hearing him speak.

“I was inspired by his speech and his story,” Will said in an interview. “He’s obsessed about the water crisis and dedicated his whole life to this cause ... And we’re both involved with the PTTOW professional network and the annual Davos gathering—with particular interests in the areas of youth culture.” 

Maxwell is interested in youth culture because most of his fundraising and outreach efforts on clean water are carried out by students across the country. Will, currently president of online fundraising platform Omaze, spent most of the last 20 years successfully helping to build multiple billion-dollar video game entertainment franchises aimed at youth, including “Tony Hawk,” “Guitar Hero” and “Call of Duty.”

The Kassoys actually visited the kingdom of eSwatini last November to see the impact of the water wells for themselves. 

“The Malibu community really stepped up,” they said. “The donation of three freshwater wells brought water to 1,500 people, and we went to visit those villages.”

 “It was touching to see the kids,” Jennifer said. “I got choked up. They wrote a big thank you note to us. They used to spend three or four hours a day to get water, and had no time for school. The local river was dried up and muddy.”

Thirst Project

An image from one of the villages where Thirst Project constructed a clean water well.

Maxwell said in an interview that the money is usually used to drill new water wells in villages, but that they may also focus on sanitation and hygiene by building latrines and hand washing stations, as well as protecting naturally existing springs or teaching locals to harvest rainwater.  

Thirst Project first began in the summer of 2008, when a friend of Maxwell’s first explained the global water crisis to him over coffee—including the fact that 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and get their water from swamps, mud puddles, earthen dams or other standing water.

He learned that, one way or another, lack of clean water is the basis of most of the rest of the problems we see in third-world countries—including disease and lack of food, education and jobs. Local residents, mostly women and children, spend so much time walking to get water every day, often carrying heavy containers for up to four miles, that they have no time for education or employment. Women can experience chronic fatigue, dehydration and miscarriages. And the water they find to bring back often isn’t clean or sanitary.

Maxwell decided he wanted to do something to take action on the issue, and spent months meeting with prominent individuals and organizations to explore solutions. He gathered friends to give away bottled water on the street and talk to people about the issue. After speaking to more than a thousand people and raising $1,700 the first day, he knew they were onto something.  

They began speaking at schools, and in the first month, raised more than $12,000. He decided students were eager to be activated on this issue and no other organization was working with them—that’s how Thirst Project was created. Today, 11 years later, they travel the country to middle schools, high schools and college campuses, teaching students to do their own fundraisers; they have raised more than $10 million. All of the money goes to water projects. The salaries of a small staff and all operational expenses are paid for by board members.

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