Water – it’s a basic necessity for all living creatures, yet a staggering 780 million people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water.
For Dunmore native Chad Corbett, that number was unacceptable.
Back in 2011, fed up with the traditions of a commercial Christmas, Corbett, now of Roanoke, Virginia, chose, instead, to contribute money to non-profit organizations.
“I’ve contributed quite a bit of money both personally and through my company [All The Leads] over the last seven or eight years,” Corbett said.
Through his donations, Corbett has worked with several non-profits and was contacted by Mountain Safety Research, of Seattle, Washington, and was invited to be part of a group of volunteers who take MSR water filters to villages in Nepal.
“They needed someone who could survive and ride motorcycles, and do professional photography and writing,” he said. “I kind of fit the bill, so I was invited on this trip. We’re focusing on a certain region of Nepal that has the highest rate of water-borne deaths. They lost two-thousand kids this year in that region, so one in every forty-five kids will never see five-years-old.”
Nepal is unique when it comes to water, in that it has the third most abundant supply of fresh water of any country in the world, but in the remote villages, the water supplies suffer from high salt content and both human and animal waste contaminants, making it unsafe to consume.
With the MSR SE 2000 which, as Corbett puts it is “essentially a little miniature pool chlorinator,” the villages can have fresh water within minutes.
“You put salt water in, hook it to a 12-volt battery, and it immediately starts making chlorine out of the salt water and in three minutes, you can produce enough chlorine to treat fifty-five gallons or two hundred liters of water,” Corbett explained. “It works perfectly. It takes $249 to produce. It’s super light. Each unit is responsible for fresh water for about two hundred people.”
While the filters are light and could be shipped, the postal service in Nepal is not reliable enough for MSR’s liking, and that is why it has volunteers who travel to the villages to hand deliver the filters.
Corbett said he was so impressed with the filter and the way it works, because it doesn’t interrupt the natural order or the historical significance of the villages, which have been untouched by outsiders for hundreds of years.
“This non-profit, they’re focused on saving lives, but secondly, preserving culture,” he said. “So, they’re not going in and disrupting them and saying, ‘we’re going to drill this big yellow well right in the middle of your town square and you’re going to use it.’ It’s a much different tone with these guys. This is, ‘okay, let’s go to Nepal, spend months there getting to know the people, building a rapport and understanding of the problem and then come up with a solution.’”
For the first 18 days in May, that is what Corbett did. He traveled to Nepal – with no idea what the itinerary was until he got there – and visited village after village, learning about the culture and helping set up the filters.
MSR has partnered with several Nepali people who acted as sherpas – guides – for the volunteers, but will also be there for the villages to ensure the filters are working properly.
“They’re making sure it’s getting integrated into the village culture,” Corbett said. “These are villages – you think where we grew up is remote – holy hell. We were the first white faces that a lot of these people had ever seen. There are five-hundred-plus year old villages that have never had foreign visitors. Most of them [the people] have never been more than twenty miles from where they were born.”
Despite the disconnect to the outside world, Corbett said he and his fellow volunteers were welcomed with open arms and cultural ceremonies.
“At one village, there was a four-hour drum ceremony, and they were super proud to show off their heritage,” Corbett said. “They were dancing with shields and swords, and those were five-hundred year old war weapons. Those were their ancestral weapons from Nepali conflicts.”
Corbett himself became a spectacle to a lot of the villagers. As a man who stands six-foot seven, he is hard to miss, and when you are the tallest white man in a village of Nepali natives, you stick out like a sore thumb. All jokes aside, though, he was never seen as a threat, but instead as a marvel to pose with for photos.
“I still don’t know the significance – no one told me – but there’s a post that’s about eight feet in the middle of the square [in one village], and they were all using that as scale,” he said. “They all knew how tall it was, and there was a crowd of them gathered around me, having me stand by it. They were just amazed. I reached up to put my hand on top of the post and you heard gasps. They just started laughing.”
One man close to Corbett’s age was standing near him and the crowd went wild when Corbett picked him up and held him in the air.
The children weren’t even scared of him, and many of them acted as translators. Corbett said he was amazed at how many Nepalis spoke fluent English and said the country of Nepal has 126 nationally recognized languages.
“Even in the most remote villages, kids that are eight or younger, they know some English,” he said. “I could use the kids. I could build a rapport with the kids, and then I could get them to help with the parents. It’s easier to communicate there than anywhere I’ve ever been. Even more so than Europe.”
This won’t be Corbett’s last trip to Nepal and, in fact, he plans to do even more non-profit work, either with existing organizations or by founding his own, or both.
“My goal is by November 1, 2021, to be done,” he said, referring to retirement. “I’m hopefully going to step out of the business world and spend all of my time in the non-profit space. I said at forty-years-old, I wanted to have my business and investments at a place where I could just dedicate my life to helping others, and I’m hopefully on track for that. I think it’s going to happen. In two years, I’ll either have my own foundation or I’ll have a bigger role with this one and others.”
For now, Corbett will continue his role as part of the marketing and fundraising team for MSR.
“Every dollar – pretty much every dollar gives somebody clean water,” he said. “It saves at least a few lives over the years. I’m going to take that role of kind of fundraising and run with that. I don’t know. I’ll probably be back to Nepal once or twice a year from this point on.”
Those interested in making a donation may visit https://www.cleandrinkadventures.org/project-jajarkhot?fbclid=IwAR17IRKTxHvlkKNWWWU43n6mO1qbg-Sy-JXpoC3G08bp5KJXUUhunFZULIM or contact Corbett at chadcorbett1@gmail. com