Image: Kelly Bensimon
Michael Muniz
Kelly Bensimon with one of the children at Orphelinat bon Samaritain (The Good Samaritan Orphanage) in Haiti where she helped fund a clean water well through Generosity Water.
NBC News
updated 4/27/2011 5:29:42 PM ET 2011-04-27T21:29:42

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Kelly Killoren Bensimon, former model and star of Bravo TV’s "The Real Housewives of New York City," about her involvement with Generosity Water, an organization that works to provide clean water to people in developing countries. Bensimon recently returned from a trip with Generosity Water to Haiti.

Generosity Water’s goal is to set up wells in villages that are protected from contaminants and organize water committees to distribute and protect this water. So far the organization has installed 131 wells worldwide.

Bensimon, a Rockford, Ill., native, has two daughters with her ex-husband, fashion photographer Gilles Bensimon.

Interviewed By: Brittany Fuerstenberg

Q: Can you explain to us the goal of Generosity Water?

Bensimon: The goal of Generosity Water is simply to bring water to countries in need.

Q: You just returned from Haiti with Generosity Water. Did you have any memorable experiences while you were there that you’d like to share with us?

Bensimon: It was really unbelievable. One of the most important things that we have to remember when we visit a place like Haiti is that [in their] hierarchy of need, water is at the top. Close to 1 billion people don’t have access to clean water worldwide, and 3.5 million people die from water related illnesses every year. So basically, [if] you want to be a humanitarian and a build a hospital, you can’t [just] build a hospital if you’re not stopping the reason people are being [sent] there, like for water-related illnesses.

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But, one thing that really struck me was that in Haiti the government donated this plot of land, Canara, and they said, "listen, you know your homes have been devastated so we’re going to offer this land to you," but there was one problem: there was no water.

The wells in Haiti are more expensive than they are in other places because you have to dig deeper. The actual wells that are built in Haiti are $6,000 versus the normal $3,000. The most important thing to remember is people can survive weeks without food; they can only survive three days without water. When I saw young girls, 10-year-olds, walking around with 40 pounds of water on their heads that I couldn’t even carry, and they weren’t in school, I thought to myself: “No. You go to school. I’ll take care of your water.”

Q: Especially as a mother yourself, that must’ve been something that really stuck with you.

Bensimon: As a mother, I was so upset by the process. I just couldn’t believe it. So, basically what I did was I enlisted my Twitter followers to support me, and I matched them, and I had my friends match me [with donations.] So it was just an amazing opportunity for everyone from my friends to the fans who love "Real Housewives." They’ve been incredibly supportive and generous. I am so grateful for that. That was really impressive.

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Q: Are there other charities you’re involved with?

Bensimon: There are so many other charities I’m involved in. I work with Feeding America. I donated some proceeds of a special charity airing last year. I also do work with the Museum of Modern Art, and I also work with Hale House.

Image: Kelly Bensimon
Mike Snedegar
Kelly Bensimon pumps clean water for the women living in Camp Canara, one of the many tent cities where Haiti earthquake survivors are now living.

Q. Why do you think it’s important for celebrities to be involved with charity work?

Bensimon: I think it’s not about being a celebrity; it’s about being a human being. It is interesting to see that the world is really small. That is one reason why I was able to make even more of an impact [because] I spoke the language. I [speak] French. So, I was able to go to the orphanages and to schools and speak to kids. Actually, I was able to go into the hospitals and communicate to the people there, be it doctors, nurses, whoever, because I spoke the language.

The world is really small and knowing a second language is really important. There were just so many layers to this trip. But, obviously bringing water to the world was one of the most important things.

Q: What are some upcoming projects that you are working on?

Bensimon: Right now I’m really focusing on Generosity Water. I want to help them raise as much money as I can. Also, I spoke to my older daughter, who’s 12, and I said maybe for her birthday and my birthday, because they’re both in May, that we would maybe [go to an orphanage I went to], and work on raising some funds. And go down there and actually clean up an orphanage. Not [by] bringing them things they can’t have, but just [by] making their lives a little better. So I am trying to enlist my kids to be supportive of the world as well, [because] they’re at that age.

Q. Now, is there anything that you would like to add?

Bensimon: I am just grateful for the opportunity. I am grateful to Bravo for allowing me the ability to have a voice and to be a public figure where I can actually make an impact, and make someone else’s life a little bit better. It is really an honor.

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