Fixing This One Problem Could Empower Millions Of Women To Build Businesses And Go To School

Imagine what we could do with 125 million more hours.

As Gary White watched a 10-year-old girl trudge through sewage in a Guatemalan slum to get water for her family, he could hardly believe this was her life.

"Standing there, just a few airplane hours away from the US, it seemed impossible that this was her reality," White told A Plus.

But it was her reality. And she is not alone: 663 million — or one in 10 people — across the globe lack access to safe water. That's why, in 2009, White took his organization Water Partners and merged it with Matt Damon's organization H20 Africa. They became partners and co-founders of Water.org, which is now servicing millions of people in 11 countries as they wage a battle against the world water crisis.

"The water crisis affects girls and women disproportionately. Water collection falls on them," Damon said. "We've found access to safe water gives women their time back, to grow a business or go to school, to be self-sufficient, and to provide for their families." 



Water. org co-founders, Matt Damon and Gary White, dancing with a group of children. Praveen Sudaram for Water.org
Water. org co-founders, Matt Damon and Gary White, dancing with a group of children. Praveen Sudaram for Water.org

In fact, water collection eats up an unthinkable amount of time for women and children across the globe. According to White, women and children spend a combined 125 million hours every day on collecting water — time they could be using to generate income, parent their children, learn a craft, or get an education. 

That's why, through India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Peru, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Cambodia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Brazil, Water.org is innovating with things like WaterCredit. They developed the program to give small loans to communities in need so they could invest in water solutions. Money a family or village gets might go towards installing a water catching system, a filtration system, or constructing water taps.WaterCredit is designed to be an affordable and easy to pay back loan, which — according to the numbers — it is. 99 percent of the loans are repaid, and once they are that money goes directly towards issuing another loan in a pay it forward system.

"Our experience over 20 years has taught us that lack of access to affordable finance is the crucial barrier to sustained water access," White said. "When a family receives a small loan to pay the upfront costs of tapping into an existing system or installing their own, it makes all the difference. Through WaterCredit, we have made over a million loans with a 99 percent repayment rate and we have reached over 5 million people."

While their work on the ground continues to tackle issues related to water access, Damon has become the face of the organization. He has done press conferences and given speeches all over the world to raise awareness about the issues Water.org works to resolve.

"He is a thought partner to the organization and a thought leader in the sector," White said. "His gift as a storyteller helps make a complex problem more readily understood and his reach through his professional career is extraordinary." 

White poses for a picture with a group of children. Water.org.
White poses for a picture with a group of children. Water.org.

Water.org has made some serious progress in their work, too. A few years ago, it was estimated that a child died every 15 seconds from a water-related disease. Common things like diarrhea can be deadly in certain parts of the world where it's far more difficult to replenish the body. But today, that number is more like one every 90 seconds. While that's an improvement, White insists that they cannot stop until there is nobody dying from lack of safe water.

"Can you imagine making a choice between giving your son or daughter a drink of water that will almost certainly make them sick or withholding the dirty water just to watch them sicken and die from dehydration?" White said. "Without access to safe water, it is nearly impossible for women to give their children the best chance of growing up and growing into their full potential."

Matt Damon poses with a #WorldWaterDay sign meant to raise awareness about the burden many women face. Water.org.
Matt Damon poses with a #WorldWaterDay sign meant to raise awareness about the burden many women face. Water.org.

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