“To us, people in poverty are citizens and customers with rights and economic power, not just people in need of a handout. They want to determine their own future. Our role is to make this happen.” –Matt Damon on water.org
Organization/Issue: Water.org is a non-profit organization that addresses the overwhelming issue of water pollution in developing countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Kenya, Ghana, Honduras, and Uganda.
Brief Background: Actor, father, husband, and activist. Matt is the co-founder of water.org, a merger of Matt’s H20 Africa and Gary White’s WaterPartners International. He attended Harvard and was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2010, he received the American Cinematheque Award.
I swear I’m not insane (okay, that one’s debatable). But I am aware that Matt Damon is definitely not a female. However, I had a sort of epiphany a few days back. Oddly enough, I have the boys in my AP U.S. History class to thank for this post. . .
For the past couple weeks several of the boys have been cracking sexist “jokes,” (and I use the term very loosely) presumably just to get on my nerves. Since eighth grade I have been very outspoken and opinionated about my beliefs, so when I began voicing my opinions of women’s rights in class, I suppose the boys saw their target and began to shoot aimlessly. They even went so far as to repeatedly suggest we put a picture of President Obama ripping up the 19th amendment on the front of our class shirts.
I’ll give y’all a moment to take that in.
Not only does it make no sense whatsoever that President Barack Obama of all people would be ripping up the 19th amendment, (2013 State of the Union, anyone? VAWA?!) but it is also overwhelmingly offensive. Would they go up to an African-American and suggest that we rip up the 13th amendment, or even the 15th amendment, and take away his/her rights as not only a citizen but an independent human being? I sure hope not.
While I am fully aware that they are just sophomoric teenage boys trying to get a rise out of me for their own ignorant amusement, I can’t seem to get past the fact that if all men held these beliefs, we would have no rights. There would be no 19th amendment to rip up. I’m not saying I expect these white American male teenagers to be empathetic, but I am saying I expect them to be sympathetic.
Having said this, you’re probably even more confused as to why I chose a wealthy white man as this weeks Fierce (Fe)male Friday. But in your question lies the answer. This wealthy white man is empowering and aiding men, women, children, communities all over the world because he is wise enough to recognize a suffering society.
Women may hold up half the sky, but let us not forget that men hold up the other half. When I learned about water.org and Matt’s fierce efforts with the organization, I knew I had to blog about it. I could not choose to refuse to commend him simply because he is a male. Nowadays the word “feminist” has become somewhat derogatory. The fact is, true feminism is not about women being better than men but about women being equal to men.
So this week I am choosing to recognize Matt Damon. He is not a man cracking “jokes” at the expense of women, but rather a man who is empowering the world, including women. He is a man who understands that women play key roles in society and with empowerment can change the world. I hope one day the boys in my history class understand that they will earn more respect for their kindness and generosity than they ever will for their “humorous” sexist tendencies.
OK, now that we’ve gotten the explanation behind us, we can move on to the really important part: why Matt Damon is cooler than a cucumber.
The best place to start is always from the beginning, and for Matt Damon’s passion for clean water, the beginning was in Zambia in 2006. After witnessing first-hand the extreme poverty and severity of water pollution in both Zambia and South Africa, Matt knew he had to do something. He learned a few of the staggering statistics involving water pollution and its damaging effects and dove into his new organization, H2O Africa. In 2009, Matt furthered his efforts by merging H2O Africa with WaterPartners to create the incredibly innovative and ferociously effective program, water.org. Matt and his economically sage counterpart Gary White have since helped nearly one million people across the world gain access to clean water and proper sanitation sites. The biggest difference between water.org’s approach and all the other programs is the sustainability and long-lasting solutions of water.org. While drilling a well may be helpful, who is going to fix the well if it breaks? Certainly not the people in the community–they don’t have access to the necessary parts. So the well water becomes contaminated, just like all the other watering locations. Water.org, however, offers the long-term solutions needed to fight the global issue.
If you took the time to read that info graphic (shown above) then congratulations, you have just begun to scrape the surface on why water pollution and the lack of sanitation is a global issue that must be addressed. As Matt has said, perhaps the worst part of the issue is that it is one hundred percent preventable. Yet, due to the lack of funds and resources available in developing countries, every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related issue. But don’t get too despondent. The good news is that just four years ago when water.org was first developed, a child died every 15 seconds. In your mind that may seem pretty minuscule, but when you think about it, it’s actually a significant change. You see, this “slight change” saves 1, 656 children every day! Read that last part over again, just to feel a bit more empowered. Now imagine that you could help raise the statistic even further because you can. Did you know that with just $25 a person can guarantee safe drinking water for the rest of their life? I think that’s rather impressive myself.
A woman in Bangladesh collects water from an arsenic contaminated hand pump.
While researching Matt Damon and the cause, I also became aware of the ripple effect (pun intended) that clean water can have on women and children. Like in most developing countries (and lets be honest, even some first-world countries) it is the women and young girls who are breaking their backs to provide for their families. Every day women and girls travel mile after mile to reach their local water supply only to retrieve water that is most certainly contaminated, and all too often, deadly. Then after gathering the water they trek back to their villages, balancing the 40 pound jerrycans on their backs. Oh, and did I mention some women do this twice a day?
Adding to the grave issue of water pollution is the deadly lack of sanitation. “The sanitation crisis can be summed up in one word: ‘dignity.'” Fewer than one in three people have access to a toilet. . . more people own a cellphone than a toilet. Because of the lack of toilets in schools, many girls are too ashamed from their lack of privacy and end up dropping out of school when they reach puberty. And cue the women’s poverty cycle.
Fortunately, with the support of water.org and its partners, women are joining together to break free of the cycle. They organize their communities so a well can be supported and so they can take out small loans for household water connections and toilets (WaterCredit). Before I tell you the results of their efforts, I should warn you that you will most likely experience an overwhelming desire to jump off your couch, pack your bags, fly to a developing country (but not before you turn off the lights in your house. . .it’s environmentally friendly, people), and take part in the global change that is water.org.
Got your passports at the ready? Good. Now read on and embrace yourselves for the empowerment that is about to come your way.
- Increase in girls’ school attendance and level of education and literacy rates (yay!) due to the elimination of the need to miss school in order to secure water.
- The reduction of child and maternal mortality because of access to safe water, sanitation facilities and improved hygiene during child birth.
- Women and girls do not have to trek to remote and dangerous locations to defecate and/or to fetch water which will reduce the risk of rape, sexual assault and increase safety (triple yay!).
- New opportunities for women’s employment and greater sovereignty and independence.
- And more
So obviously I’m pretty fired up about water.org and the magnificent Matt Damon and not to mention the BA women and girls who are the powerhouses behind the changes in their communities. Like I said earlier, the beginning is the best place to, well, begin. Last Thursday my English teacher showed my class the recently launched video of Matt Damon declaring he is going on a strike for water.org. He, ladies and gentlemen, will not be “going to the bathroom” until “everyone has access to clean water and sanitation.” Now, my teacher’s reasoning behind showing us the video was not only to raise awareness for the cause, but also to show us an example of satire. I’d say he did a pretty good job at both, don’t you think? Never once had I even thought about the significance of the toilet. Sorry, Matt, I didn’t know World Toilet Day (November 19, FYI) existed either. But thanks to this witty and wry staged press conference, I am aware, and I hope you are too.
Matt, your compassion and commitment to aiding in the fight against water pollution and lack of sanitation has not gone unnoticed. (You made sure of that with your bold declarations).
Every day I stumble upon a new cause, a new issue, a new organization, a new activist. I for one am incredibly happy that I was serendipitously exposed to your particular cause. Whenever I come across an issue that touches me the way this one has, I feel a flame of empowerment kindle inside me. Some people are addicted to adrenaline rushes–adrenaline junkies. I, however, am an empowerment junky. I thrive on the unquenchable thirst to tackle an issue head-and-heart-on. To discover more ways to aid in the betterment of our world is my passion. I am a firm believer that just one person can make a difference, and it is because of humanitarians like yourself that a new generation of empowerment junkies is born.
So on behalf of empowerment junkies everywhere (because I refuse to believe I’m the only weirdo out there) thank you for being such a Fierce (Fe)Male.
You are truly holding up half the sky. . .And making sure women are able and allowed to hold up the other half.