CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) - What began as a Missouri man's simple idea has grown into an international effort to provide access to clean water for more than 57,000 people in 10 countries.
Bill Prost of Cape Girardeau is the founder of the Five for Water Foundation, which has funded 11 water projects in 10 coffee-growing countries through the sale of Green Mountain fair-trade organic coffee.
Prost is a longtime member of the Rotary Club in Cape Girardeau. The Southeast Missourian (http://bit.ly/No1Pj6) reports that Rotarians across the country go door-to-door selling bags of coffee, with a portion of the proceeds going to the water projects.
Since the foundation began four years ago, $350,000 worth of water projects have been completed or are under way in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Bolivia, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Sumatra, Malawi and Costa Rica.
UNICEF officials estimate that more than 1 billion people around the world lack safe drinking water, a number that Prost didn't believe the first time he read it in The Rotarian magazine.
"That planted the seed," he said. "I started thinking about how I could try to do something about that. It evolved from there. The bits and pieces came together."
Proceeds from the not-for-profit organization finance the "Clean Water for Coffee-Producing Countries" fund at The Rotary Foundation. Five for Water also partnered with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to produce a special packaging with the Rotary logo.
Prost said it was important to choose coffee varieties that were designated both fair trade and organic. Fair trade means growers are paid a guaranteed minimum price.
"I don't want herbicides, chemicals or pesticides going into Third World water tables," Prost said.
Five for Water has funded a variety of construction projects, from new wells and water towers to installing water main pipelines that carry clean water to villages.
Each coffee bag costs $10 and is available in four varieties: Organic House Blend, Organic Sumatran Reserve, Rain Forest Nut and a decaffeinated version of the Organic House Blend.
Jim Riley, a Cape Girardeau Rotary Club member, likes the idea of being able to help those in need while buying something he would purchase anyway.
"I love coffee and I love good coffee," Riley said. "So I'm going to buy coffee anyway, but to be able to do something like this and have a couple of dollars of my purchase be combined with donations from Rotary international, 50 cents of mine can turn into a dollar or two worth of good."
The money helps, Prost said, but challenges remain. Tribal warfare has delayed a project in Malawi twice, he said. And, it is often difficult to find a qualified contractor in remote areas of the world. Meanwhile, fuel theft can cause problems on construction sites.
When it came to finding a home for his foundation, Prost returned to his roots and chose the business incubator at Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. A Caruthersville, Mo., native, Prost earned his undergraduate degree from Southeast.