April 05, 2011
EAST WHITELAND — From the time Jahan Tavangar was a child, he wanted to help improve the condition of the poor on a global scale.
When Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake in January 2010, he saw a place to start, and he started with the children.
Tavangar dug into his own pocket and took profits from TotalFacility, a company he co-founded with his brother Alex, to pay for the water purification systems he installed himself at schools, hospitals and orphanages in Haiti.
Thus far, Tavangar has made four trips to the island nation, installing five purification systems that have created clean drinking water for 1,000 children.
As Haiti continues to struggle in the aftermath of the earthquake, a subsequent cholera outbreak has killed an additional 4,000 people.
So Tavangar started his campaign to help the world’s poor with a project that is basic to survival.
“You cannot break the cycle of poverty without safe drinking water,” Tavangar said.
In Haiti, he chose water purification system sites based on need.
“But the need is so great,” the 53-year-old Tavangar said, “it breaks your heart to choose which school gets the system.”
As he set up the treatment systems and evaluated need, he came up with a plan for a self-sustaining enterprise that would fund many more systems, a project he calls Coffee For Water.
“Haiti grows very good coffee,” said Tavangar, whose idea was to “leverage their industry for clean drinking water.”
Coffee for water
Tavangar launched Coffee For Water in March on the 19th annual International World Water Day, a world
wide initiative designed to focus attention on the importance of fresh water and to advocate for the sustainable management of fresh water resources.
Coffee for Water is a “social enterprise” but is not a nonprofit. As such, Coffee For Water uses its profits to fund a humanitarian mission.
An online specialty coffee company, Coffee for Water is currently selling Cafe Deluxe Rebo, a Haitian product. But Tavangar said he hopes the company will soon start packaging and selling its own brand.
Tavangar said he buys coffee from growers, paying them a fair price, one considerably higher than they would get from a coffee broker.
Tavangar has done the math.
The proceeds from every 10 bags of coffee purchased from Coffee For Water will provide safe drinking water to a child for one year.
“Have you ever noticed that the coffee-growing countries are very poor?” Tavangar asked. “They don’t reap the benefits (of their work).”
Tavangar’s goal is to expand Coffee for Water to other impoverished coffee-growing counties in east Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The purification technology is provided by One World Environment LLC.
The systems can be powered by solar panels or 12-volt batteries, which makes them ideal for places without reliable electricity, Tavangar explained. The systems use only 80 watts of electricity and require no chemicals.
Eventually, schools or orphanages with the systems in place that have excess water will be able to sell the water for added income, he said.
Growing up in Iran, Tavangar said he read newspaper accounts of war and famine and refugee camps in Africa.
At a young age, he pledged that he would someday help the world’s poorest population.
In 1976, at age 17, he immigrated to the U.S., joining his brother Alex who was a student at the University of Texas in Arlington.
His parents and other siblings joined him later.
Working his way through college holding one, maybe two jobs, Tavangar got his undergraduate degree in Virginia Tech, a master’s degree at the University of California at Davis and a Ph.D. at Utah State University.
His degree is in environmental engineering.
In 1990, Tavangar and his brother Alex founded TotalFacility, a national provider of comprehensive facilities repair and maintenance services, remodeling, retrofits, and project roll-outs.
With a network of more than 30,000 pre-qualified service providers in some 85 trades, TotalFacility offers repair and maintenance management services to retail chains and multi-location commercial property owners.
The company is headquartered in the Great Valley Corporate Center in East Whiteland.
To help raise awareness of Coffee for Water, as well as to fund the program in Haiti, Tavangar said TotalFacility made a donation to the project in the name of his clients over the holidays last year instead of sending out boxes of chocolates.
Each client was notified by e-mail about the “gift.”
The response was heartwarming, said Tavangar, of Tredyffrin. Not only did clients thank TotalFacility for making the donation, but also for not sending chocolates, a gift that had long ago worn out its welcome.
They also asked that TotalFacility keep them updated on Coffee for Water’s good works.
“This is an exciting new chapter in my life,” Tavangar said, adding that living in the U.S. has provided to him a bounty of benefits. “We came with nothing but the money in our pockets. Now we have 30 employees and it is time to give back.”