Senior Mariah Smiley’s nonprofit is more than an extracurricular; it’s a labor of love.
Her organization, called Drops of Love, raises awareness of the scarcity of clean water throughout the world and has sponsored the construction of clean water wells in four villages in El Salvador, Nicaragua and India. Donors are encouraged to give with a guarantee: one dollar provides clean water to one person for one whole year.
“We believe that every single person in this world should have access to clean water. Period,” said Smiley, a management information systems major who serves as president of the organization. “Every single person involved is here because they love the people we’re able to help. 100% of our donations go towards drilling the wells. We pay expenses out of pocket so that every cent can go to help these people that so desperately need something we take for granted in the United States.”
Each well costs $5,000 on average. Builders are sponsored to construct the wells between $1,200 and $2,000, depending on the region and time of year. The wells typically last for years, usually servicing 250-500 people, but one village had as few as eight families.
But when it comes to impact, Smiley believes the size of the village isn’t important. “Bigger organizations often overlook the smaller villages so that they can ‘do more good elsewhere.’ This is true but then who does good in the smaller, less populated villages?”
Her eyes were opened to the water scarcity crisis during a poignant conversation she had with her parents when she was 14. They had returned from a charity fundraiser and explained to Smiley how people frequently died from diseases they contracted through unsafe drinking water. She learned that the good news was that disease was preventable and it didn’t cost much to help – even one dollar could provide one person clean water for an entire year. Smiley recalled thinking: “If I could find a dollar as a 14-year-old, I knew others could too.”
She decided to do her part by forming Drops of Love. Then, at 17, she and her brother registered Drops of Love as an official non-profit and she took the helm as president.
Four years later, Smiley envisions a network of Water Ambassadors associated with Drops of Love who can sponsor their own wells by hosting fundraisers in their own communities. “We see Drops of Love as a vehicle for others who want to help but don’t know how to get started,” she said.
She hopes others can see just how much they are capable of creating an impact. “Everyone has a sphere of influence that they can inspire to change the world. With Drops of Love, we want to provide these leaders with the tools to get out there and make a difference.”