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PHILANTHROPY: Quenching the thirst for high fashion and clean water.

Our world interconnects with people, experiences, references, similarities and differences. What connection, for instance, could there be between people in a remote village in Africa and the world of couture bridal fashion? When a group of 15 U.S. wedding photographers embarked on a journey to Tanzania, they made that connection.

Their journey was a pro-active stand to support Thirst Relief International, an organization founded in 2005 by wedding photographer Jim Davis-Hicks who recognized the need for clean drinking water in communities around the world.

Although clean, drinking water is something many of us take for granted, according to UNICEF, more than 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Statistically, every 15 seconds there is a death because of a water-borne illness. For those who live without this precious resource the result is a host of preventable illnesses. The World Health Organization reports that each year 2.5 million people die from diarrheal diseases, many of them caused by contaminated water. Ninety percent of those deaths are children under age five. Thirst Relief International creates the needed infrastructure and provides the resources for those communities to access and enjoy clean drinking water. In three years time, Thirst Relief has provided 100,000 people in nine different countries a clean water solution for less than five dollars per person.

Through the efforts of Jim Davis-Hicks and influence of celebrity photographer Mike Colón, the wedding photography community has embraced the mission of Thirst Relief and has become its greatest source for raising awareness and funds. In early 2009, Colón extended an invitation to fellow wedding photographers for a trip to Tanzania where they would witness firsthand and partake in the organization’s efforts. But the trip would include a lot more than that. Colón also extended an invitation to top bridal gown designers asking them to design a gown for a photo shoot that would take place on location in Tanzania. Each gown would incorporate a touch of the color blue symbolizing the element of water. Local models would showcase the gowns and the participating photographers would then photograph the entire story. The response was overwhelming and so the journey began.

Colón led photographers Andrew Bryant, David Burke, David Edmonson, Luke Edmonson, Phillip Glickman, Ben Harrison, Melissa Jill, Jeff LaPlante, Shane Melenbacker, Laura Parker, Ray Santana, Jason Thon and Michelle Walker to Tanzania where they witnessed first-hand the work that Thirst Relief is doing there by creating and distributing bio-sand water filters. The team was able to visit numerous orphanages where Thirst Relief’s water filters keep children healthy. They also had a chance to get their hands dirty working in the filter workshop and even helped distribute filters to nearby homes. According to photographer and trip participant Shane Melenbacker, “It was a heart-wrenching and life-changing experience.”

For the photo shoot, designers Ines Di Santo, Amy Michelson, Adele Wechsler and Angel Sanchez rose to the challenge and each created a gown. The shoot took place in the Bagamoyo region of Tanzania—a historic seaport rich in history that was formerly a slave-trading depot, as well as the first capital of the German East Africa Company in the early 19th century. According to photographer and trip participant Melissa Jill, “The models, gowns and location were all incredible and the 15 of us were all in photographer heaven shooting away with our long lenses so we could all ‘get the shot’.” The images in this issue of “Grace Ormonde Wedding Style” are the result of that photo shoot and the team hopes their efforts will raise even more awareness and support for Thirst Relief International among wedding professionals and the public at large.

The aforementioned designers are generously donating a portion of the proceeds of the sale of these gowns to the work Thirst Relief is doing around the globe. A mere five dollars can save a life by providing a lifetime of access to clean drinking water. Imagine the impact the sale of just one gown can have. Our world is one big community after all and support for organizations that provide humanitarian aid can simply quench our thirst to help a fellow human being.

> Written by Yanni Tzoumas;  
Contributor: Melissa Jill Hester


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