This Trip Changed Me

Since my return from a visit with the Dominican Republic's poorest communities I’ve been asked "How was your trip?" more times than I can remember.  

The knee jerk response is to answer like my kids may when I inquire about the school day.  It would be easy to toss out one of many cliche exclamatory adjectives.  However, a simple answer of  "good", “great”, “moving” or even “life-changing” does not do justice either to the sincerity of the question or to the depth of the experience.

Forgive me in advance for being long-winded or offensive.  The intention of my reply is not merely to answer.  I’d prefer to help you step into portions of the experience itself. 

Before I step on the airplane I find myself guarded against a potential pitfall that comes when you hold hands with a depth of financial poverty never before encountered.

I've talked to many who have been on similar journeys and a common response is something like...

"Wow! I can't believe how I take for granted everything that I have. I now feel a new gratitude for (fill in the blank with first world luxuries like clean water, indoor plumbing, electricity, three square meals a day, etc)."

I will always celebrate any experience that stirs within us a deeper gratitude for the simple.  However, if we don't go deeper than this then I'm convinced our gratitude is nothing but disguised forms of blindness and greed.

You see, if our gratitude is ultimately inspired by the things that we have then we are indirectly suggesting that those with less should be less grateful and that those with next to nothing should have next to no gratitude.  

We spend 90 minutes of our trip visiting a group of Haitian refugees who escaped Haiti so that they could live in a Dominican dump.  My use of the word dump in not at all figurative.  As we leave a garbage truck enters the area to do what garbage trucks do at a dump.  Never again will I be able to say, "one man's trash is another man's treasure" without having my stomach turn.  The people race to the dump truck as if it's Santa's sleigh.  Why?  It is so so that they can get their hands on the best garbage before anyone else does.  Be assured that these people really have next to nothing.  

Despite this very real plight, these Haitians (and the many others we meet who have little more than the Dump residents) are familiar with gratitude.  What in the world do they have to be thankful for?  When we answer this question (and only when we answer this question) do we discover for ourselves the source of authentic gratitude.  

We are blind if we believe that gratitude has its source in that which we possess.

My next sentence is sure to offend but please know that it does so without judgment.  I simply ask for you to hear me out completely before disregarding the message

We are greedy if we possess more than we need without exhibiting a willingness to find a way to use SOME of our surplus to assist others who demonstrate, with action, a desire for opportunity to rise up out of the circumstances with which they are faced.

The preceding sentence is written every so intentionally and deserves some unpacking.

First, please know that I have far more than I need.  This is true of any middle class American and, quite frankly, is also true of many in the United States that find themselves with less than a middle class income.  One friend of mine with whom I do business says it this way:  "If we are born in the United States we've already hit the jackpot."

While I am filthy rich compared to most of the world, I am surprised that my trip does not make me feel at all guilty about the ease of my life.  Neither do I feel mere gratitude because I happen to possess more than those who occupy two thirds of our world.  I do, on the other hand, sense a responsibility.  "To whom much is given, much is required." 

I am grateful that I sense responsibility rather than guilt.  What would a sense of guilt really achieve anyway?  I imagine that guilt would be inspired to give just enough to assuage my selfish feelings of remorse.  Responsibility, on the other hand, is a much higher calling.  It is a calling that requires effort and sacrifice both from the giver and from the recipient.

While in the Dominican Republic, before having the "pleasure" of visiting the Dump, it is impressed upon me that I should partner with a Dominican based organization to identify one person, one family or one community that shows both the fervor and the wherewithal to rise up out of poverty's cruelty in order to lay hold of a better, more sustainable life.

Our team talks a lot about the importance of giving "hand ups" rather than "hand outs." The beneficiary selected will have to be willing to sweat.  I have zero interest in giving one person a fish and neither do I want to teach one person to fish.  I want  someone who will learn to fish and then teach others also.

I partner with an organization called "Cups of Cold Water. ( and I tell my partners that we will do whatever it takes.  Are we willing to adopt or support the adoption of another?  Yes!  Are we willing to pay for a college education or trade school?  Yes!  Do we need to receive credit for what we give?  Absolutely not!  The nationality, gender and age of the recipient is entirely unimportant.  Please, I say, just wisely identify the recipient and we will invest as necessary.  Recently the team on the ground has talked to us about an 18 year old  single mother named Michelle who, years ago, believing it was her best economic opportunity (as far too many young Dominican girls do) began earning pesos as a child prostitute.

My wife Jennie and I have recently been reading the Old Testament book of Ruth.  It is known as a multifaceted love story.  Ruth shows great love toward her mother in law Naomi. Boaz shows great love toward a foreigner named Ruth.  However, the love story that stands out for me is the passionate concern that Israel's God shows for the poor, the orphan and the widow.

Without going into a great deal of historical minutia, I want to share a key element of this story.  It is a story that, when combined with my trip to the Dominican Republic, changes my life.

Israel's law, handed down from God to Moses, make many concessions to insure that the widow, the orphan and the poor receive special consideration.

One of the more puzzling requirements of Israel's law makes the following allowances for a childless widow and her deceased husband. 

The nearest male relative is called upon to marry and have children with the widow.  The first male child will carry on the deceased father's name and will be granted a full double portion inheritance that is due to the first male child of any family.

I know that this seems entirely outdated on so many levels.  Still, it is important that we see the spirit and the heart that establishes the law.  

A man called upon to carry out this obligation would often refuse to do so because it would minimize the inheritance of his own children and of his own name (Ruth 4:6).  

Agreeing to carry out this obligation is to exhibit identical concern for one's own children and for other people's children.

Before leaving for the Dominican Republic I asked myself the following question: 

“How can I, for the remaining years of my life, offer my very best to the world?”

Today I answer this question with three words (without knowing entirely all that my answer may entail).  

My answer:  Other people's children.

Anyone care to join me

Kindest regards,

Eric Fialkoff


Charity: Less Me, More We

Charity: Less Me, More We

Sometimes I don't know how to begin. My heart is heavy with passion, the weight of something that I'm sold out to. We pour ourselves into so many things over a day, a year, a lifetime. In the end we want to know that it was good, that it was right, that it mattered.

What is Charity?

There's a lot of conversations going on these days. If you hang out with enough humanitarians or just Google, you'll soon come across the question of charity. How we do it, why we do it, and if it should even be done. The truth of the matter is yes, it should be done, it needs to be done. I can no more walk away from someone with a need than to leave a bleeding person alongside the road.  As a nurse, I greatly understand the difference between helping and enabling. Sometimes, most times, it's not strictly a black and white situation. And here is where the conversation starts. Charity needs to be about more than just being a good person, it’s about offering a hand up, empowering. Offering a sustainable solution. It would it be ridiculous if I came up to that bleeding person on the road, handed them a Band-Aid, walked away and thought that I had actually done something.


Three Basic Forms of Charity

Charity can often be broken down into three large groups;

Emergency Relief - Those individuals that have an immediate need, most often caused because of a natural disaster or something completely unseen. Those affected have no capacity to help themselves most often because of an event like hurricane Katrina in the U.S. or the earthquakes that rocked Haiti and Nepal. Relief and support is mobilized immediately, one of the many reasons an organization like the Red Cross was established.

Perpetual Handouts - Unfortunately, this is often what we’ve come to know about charity. A lot of us will humbly admit that we’ve participated in this type of charity. No judgment friends, I too have been there. Thinking that I was doing right, my heart was in a very good place, and I meant well. I just hadn’t yet been educated to the damage created by handouts. Handouts in the immediate (emergency relief) is GOOD but if it’s still happening years later, then we’ve created a cycle that is very wrong and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. The facts speak for themselves on handouts, if donated dollars could have fixed the problem, it already would have.

Sustainable Solutions - The third type is one that creates a lasting impact and sustainable solution. In a lot of ways this is much harder because it requires a commitment and a teachable spirit. Nobody is riding in to the rescue. It's a process of listening, building relationships, and often a level of trial and error. It’s allowing those on the receiving end to “rescue” themselves by supporting entrepreneurship, job creation, and personal responsibility and ownership.


What Humankind Does: Hydro-Philanthropy

Humankind Water takes your dollars and partners with reputable organizations that are changing the way charity is done because we care about those affected and the way that we deliver help. Our partners work closely within the local community to provide empowerment- jobs, education, sustainability. We deliver immediate clean water solutions in order to decrease preventable illnesses, like cholera, and allow a temporary fix until the long term solution (a well or rain catchment system) can be established. As hydro-philanthropy evolves, we at Humankind Water do too, sometimes needing to change the formula for sustainable impact based on best practice. Our bottled water exists for the sole purpose of helping to eradicate the clean water crisis. We know better, and we strive to do better. Charity needs to empower those on the receiving end, otherwise the cycle continues.

I am pouring my heart and soul into something that is good and lasting. A bottle of HK is more than giving clean water, it's jobs, it's education, it's health. The best thing is that we’re partnering together to hope for a brighter future. All with the utmost respect to those impacted. 



Do we ever really know the impact of a spoken word, of a decision so small that we hardly consider it, of an action so minute that it’s forgotten as quickly as it happened?

Some of the very reasons that Humankind has grown, is because of these very things. I don’t know that we’re ever fully aware of this ripple effect because often we never see or hear what takes place further down the chain. We drop a pebble (our word, our decision) and walk away without ever knowing the full impact.

There’s a blessing that I’ve often felt in watching this effect. Sometimes I think Lancaster County, PA is a hotbed of grass roots growth. If you ever want to waste some hours of your day, just invite me for coffee. I have stories upon stories to entertain you with. One hair dresser shares with a client, home recently from Haiti, about another client who sells bottled water in order to dig wells in developing countries. One church goer says to another “hey, could we…?” One patient, waiting for surgery offers a name of a potential contact and the cascade starts all over again. This phenomena is amazing and exciting and astounding. Each person who has ever played a part in this ripple effect has truly helped grow something so much bigger than a handful of people could ever do on their own.

But my favorite, my FAVORITE (as though it could get better) is to stand at the end of those ripples, when I stare in to a pair of dark brown eyes who is grabbing my hand, or hugging me, or pressing their palms together and uttering their thanks. It’s an honor to know these little stories, these pebbles that have started off a ripple effect that has changed a future. When I say thank you- to YOU, it is not just from me but from them. The life that is changed because of the pebble you cast.

“I alone can not change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” ~Mother Teresa



Boom. That’s our prayer for 2105. We want this thing to blow up.

That’s a good thing.

I ‘spose the “New Year’s Blog” could just as easily be filled with highlights from 2014. But there is so much exciting stuff going on as we look ahead, I can only bring myself to give a sparse sentence to 2014. It was amazing.

Ok, a couple more sentences. What we did, by God’s grace, that was bigger than any other single milestone, was to cross the coveted half million mark in our metric for serving. We measure in terms of “people years” of water (that is, the number of people serves times the number of years the well or filter will last as stated by a trustworthy third party). In 2014, we crossed over 500,000 people years of water. For that we are proud and humbled.

Some big deals happened this year too-doors opened for lots of possibilities and probabilities one of which was being asked to be THE water at Creation Fest, a HUGE christian music festival in northwest PA. 50,000+ people and a chance for me to take the main stage to announce another big deal- a partnership with Turkey Hill (look for us in stores starting next month).

We led our first HKW missions team to the Dominican Republic and 2014 saw the completion of our 64th water initiative in India.

But we have only scratched the surface.

We are finally moving into the facilities of at least three new major distributors. The moment the first of them kicks in (Turkey Hill, in February) we automatically double our number of retailers. My hope is to see our sales increase by at least 5x as well as the contributions to Give 100
2015 will mark the first time we have a sales force working for us. These aren’t technically Humankind employees. They’re folks who sell other brands of beverage and will be “pushing” Humankind as well. We’ve never had that before. Our numbers really are poised to explode.


Our goal for 2015 is to go nationwide. That is what we’re praying for and working towards.

Undoubtedly, it will be hard work. I love the quote on the Beautiful Meg’s fridge. It’s from Victor Frankl: “What is to give light must endure the burning.” There will be sacrifices. But the payoff is in saved lives. That really oughtta wake you up in the morning.

On the philanthropy side, the number of wells and filters continue to increase. And the increase is accelerating. An anonymous donor allowed for the purchase of our first Human-powered drill. It is slated to drill its first well in February. Which I hope to see
We are holding a planning meeting/brainstorm-fest on how to see success at many of our new sales sites. The meeting will be the second week of January in Lancaster, PA. For details please contact me at my email,

Thank YOU for all that you’ve done and will do to advance the mission of Humankind. It truly is more than just buying a bottle of water, it’s about changing a life. We here at HKW are humbled by the “tribe” that believes in, supports, and encourages this movement.

God bless and HAPPY NEW YEAR!