A 14-year-old girl in Zambia was walking to get water for her family. The daily walk took so much time that she couldn’t go to school full time. She dreamed of becoming a nurse and living in the big city. Her dreams could come true if she only has access to a well closer to home. She wouldn’t have to spend her time looking for water to get what we take for granted every day: clean clothes, drinking water and a flushable toilet.
Ironically, some municipalities are piping water right under their communities but people cannot access it when they live on $2 to $5 a day.
We have a tradition in our household: Christmas day is when we make donations to various charities. Every year is a struggle: who do we choose? This year, we will make a donation alongside Matt Damon to a new worthy cause. Read on…
More people own cell phones than toilets
In many parts of Africa and India, almost 800 million people (more than twice the population of the USA) lack access to clean water. A staggering 2.5 billion people are without toilets. More people own cell phones than toilets!
Water.org is a foundation formed by actor Matt Damon and entrepreneur Gary White. The idea is to provide access to financing for very low income families in the form of microloans, $100 for example. By giving them the time back that they would have spent finding clean water, kids can attend school and people can go to work.
This creative concept came from Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker, who earned the Nobel Peace prize in 2006. His idea? Here is a classic example: give a woman a loan to buy a sewing machine to make clothes, or a goat to make cheese, and she will generate income for her whole family for years.
The beauty of the microloan is that the receiver can choose what solution is best for his/her family: a household water connection, a rainwater harvesting tank or a toilet within their home. Once the loans are repaid (99 percent are), the cycle will continue to provide funds to others in need. So this is not just charity, it’s a donation that keeps on giving.
Damon is happy to use his celebrity status to gain exposure for his organization. He learned that receiving donations is easy. Figuring out how they should be spent is hard.
Damon recently held a hilarious mock press conference where he claimed he was not going to use the toilet until the global sanitation issue was solved. The YouTube video went "viral” and quickly increased the popularity of Water.org. Search YouTube for "Matt Damon toilet” or visit www.strikewithme.org.
The video also promotes World Toilet Day, which occurred on November 19.
Damon knows there will never be enough charity to solve the global crisis, but addressing specific needs of the poorest of the poor with microloans can make all the difference.
So what can you do? A donation of $25 can give someone access to water for life.
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of "Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.WalkaHound.com).
Chris Longenecker, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.