Every day, more than 663 million people worldwide face a similar challenge—finding access to clean drinking water. Millions die every year because of it, and one Hollywood superstar is working to solve that dilemma.
“It’s totally unnecessary, something we know how to prevent and cure.” Those were the words from actor Matt Damon when he spoke to ON and BEYOND at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City. In 2009, Damon and businessman Gary White cofounded a nonprofit organization called Water.org. Its goal is simple—bring clean drinking water to countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, India and Honduras.
“A lack of clean drinking water robs so many of their futures,” White said. “When Matt and I got involved, we learned very quickly the impact of clean versus unclean water, not only on the physical health of so many but also on their lifestyles. It’s a tragedy that effects the entire family.”
Damon said the water shortages “disproportionately affect women, who often spend hours each day searching for water for the families while their husbands are working.” That’s why Water.org has partnered with beer maker Stella Artois to create the “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign. A limited-edition collection of decorated glass chalices, sporting the Stella logo and the campaign theme, is being sold for $13. Each purchase provides a woman in one of those countries with clean water for five years.
“We’ve been reading about the problems in Flint (Michigan), and we’re outraged and rightfully so,” Damon said. “But this is an everyday reality for millions of people who are faced every day with the choice of giving their children dirty water or no water at all. We can be the generation that ends this. Americans respond to things that work as this program has done, and we need to get the word out.”
The “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign is new, but Water.org’s efforts are not. In the past year, it has provided clean water for over 290,000 people. White said the organization is working with other such groups to “find the innovations that can help solve the problem, and be entrepreneurial about it.” Thus, the partnership with Stella. Stella’s Todd Allen joined with Damon and White at the Sundance event.
“It’s expensive to be poor,” Damon said, “and these people have had to pay for water, sometimes up to 25 percent of their income just to have water to drink. In many cases, there are actually water lines that run under their homes that they can’t get connected with, and we’re helping solve that. We’re working to create a level of sustainability and then a line of improvement in their lifestyles.”
Damon discussed a trip he took with White to Ethiopia several years ago where he witnessed children filling bottles with water that looked like the color of chocolate milk.
He said the parents knew the dirty water would cause illness, but it was still better than giving their kids no water at all.
“We all have a social voice,” White added. “The chalice program is a great on-ramp, but not the only one. As Matt has said, this helps get the word out, helps get the conversation about the global water crisis started. The more people we tell our story to, the more people will look for new ideas on how to solve it.”
“My wife and I have four daughters, and we began asking ourselves, ‘What will be our mark on the world we leave for them?’” he said. “If we can be part of ending the global water crisis, that would be pretty damn cool.”
Learn more about this program at http://www.buyaladyadrink.com/.