The Discovery Channel called it the best spring water in the world.
If that seems a bit hyperbolic, consider that it also was awarded the gold medal for best non-carbonated bottled water in the Berkeley Springs (WVa) International Water Tasting regarded as the Super Bowl of water competitions.
No matter the venue, it's pretty heady stuff for Tumai Water, a product that has been on the market only four months.
"The Discovery Channel honor might be overdoing it, but we'll gladly take the praise," said Bob Downey, a co-founder and president of Spero Group of Martinsburg, WVa, which bottles Tumai in nearby Alton, VA, source of the spring that is flowing gold for Spero.
Spero, Swahili for "to hope for," is an apt name for the company and both its commercial and philanthropic ventures. The company literature says it "was founded with the commitment of providing safe water, shelter, essential nutrition, and proper healthcare to those in need around the world."
While living in upstate New York, Downey teamed up with James Maddalone of Albany and Dan Magid of Schenectady to come up with a business model. Even though Downey left the area to return to West Virginia a year ago, the trio continued their collaboration. Downey runs the day-to-day operation for bottling and sales.
Spero's mission statement says portions of the profits from its water sales "will be alloted to non-profit organizations that share like-minded goals. This is done with the purpose of supplying those specific organizations with needed finances to enhance and expand their own mission and goals.
"Initially, at least 15% of profits will be channeled directly to these non-profits with additional donations made as Spero Group is able based upon net profits."
The company already has a strong presence in Africa, targeting improvements in communities living in abject poverty and people suffering from HIV/AIDS, the biggest health scourge on the continent. It is working with other charitable organizations, including Tumai: Bridge of Hope, the South African-based organization for whom the bottled water is named, Engineers Without Borders and Hands at Work.
Downey, who attended the Calvary Tabernacle Church in Schenectady with his wife, Michele, said he became aware of some of the needs of African communities through a sister church in Johannesburg, South Africa.
"There is so much to be done to help less fortunate people in other countries that we felt this was a way we could create a steady flow of assistance and work with organizations who had looked into situations and knew who was legitimate," Downey said.
Downey said Tumai Water was being sold in only five local outlets before the recent honors. That number now has jumped to 35.
"We're getting inquiries from all across the country, and even from the U.K.," he said. "We're about to finish discussions with a major distributor that will mean we have major availability in a three-state area" -- Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, which come together in the Martinsburg area.
Current recipients of aid from Spero include the Mpumalanga Christian Network orphanage in South African and Mozambique, and villages in South Africa and Kenya. Among the activities are resconstructing cyclone-damaged structures, providing educational supplies, medical equipment, sanitation facilities and drinking water wells.
The United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) last week reported that as many as a million Central Africans "do not have access to clean water and, therefore, are highly vulnerable to threat of deadly waterborne diseases because of the conflict threatening their country."
Only three of 10 projects designed by U.N. agencies or by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve access to clean water and sanitation across the northern Central African Region this year have received any funding. The situation is particularly acute because the dry season normally ends in April, and so does the window of opportunity for projects to be implemented.
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