Matt Damon has played his share of characters facing insurmountable challenges, but one of the biggest challenges the actor has faced yet is his real-life mission to bring toilets and sanitation to the world’s 2.5 billion people who lack access.
“Every 20 seconds a child dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation – every 20 seconds – three kids every minute somewhere on Planet Earth, not here,” Damon told “Power Players.” "Our kids aren't going to die from diarrhea, that’s just an inconvenience to us in the West.”
As the co-founder of Water.org, a non-profit that focuses on bringing clean water and toilets to impoverished communities around the world, Damon said one of the biggest hurdles he faces is getting people in the developed world to understand the severity of the problem.
“We have this constant struggle of trying to get people to understand this problem of water and sanitation, because it's really hard for us to relate to it in the West,” he said.
One of the most effective ways of getting people’s attention, Damon said, has been “to attack it through humor,” which is why Water.org produced a series of web videos that have since gone viral on the Internet in which Damon “goes on strike” – pledging to not go to the bathroom until everyone on the planet has access to toilets.
And he got some of his famous friends, like Jessica Biel and Bono, to join in on the strike too.
“It didn't take a lot of convincing,” Damon said. “The truth is people want to help.”
Gary White, the co-founder and CEO of Water.org, explained that their non-profit is taking a different approach than simple charity to tackle the problem facing the world’s population lacking access to clean water and sanitation.
“Instead of just drilling a well and giving it to somebody for free, what we're looking at is, how do we help them get access to a small loan, so that they can get a water connection at their home from the local utility and become a customer,” White said.
Damon said their hope is that, through empowering communities, they will help them help themselves and be able to sustain the clean water supply independent of charitable aid.
“We look at helping people tap into what we believe is their intrinsic power as customers and as citizens,” Damon said, explaining that many of the people they are looking to help have low-wage jobs that they have to leave in order to collect water.
“They have to go to a communal collection point and stand and wait with thousands of other people for their turn to fill up their jerry can," he said. “And that's costing them productivity. And so if you actually give them a loan and essentially, you buy their time back…They can have a tap in their house and they can get those hours back to work.”
For more of the interview with Damon and White, including why they say this issue is of particular importance to women, check out this episode of “Power Players.”
ABC News’ Cindy Smith, Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, and Tom Thornton contributed to this episode.
- Matt Damon