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Drip down: how to become a guerrilla humanitarian

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Georgina Wilson-Powell

25 October 2016

1 in 10. They’re pretty good odds right? Wrong. Shamefully, that’s the proportion of the world without safe drinking water in 2016. 663 million people. Or to look at it another way, twice the entire population of the United States. We bet you’re feeling lucky right now.

Over the last few years a new player has emerged, one who wants to turn the tables on water scarcity and charity work.

“I want to win the water crisis,” says former professional surfer Jon Rose, who is on a philanthropic crusade to improve people’s odds of being able to access safe, clean water.

The DIY humanitarian set up Waves for Water in 2009 after experiencing a huge earthquake in Sumatra where he was surfing. Originally it harnessed the power of individual surfers who were travelling to remote parts of the world in search of better waves, to deliver cheap but effective water filters to communities where taking a drink could take your life. Having expanded into providing quick response disaster relief in 16 countries, Rose has created a new form of charity work - active individual involvement which skirts the red tape that massive organisations face - no surfboard required.

Jon Jack Rose Waves For Water Haiti Pebble Magazine

Jon Rose was influenced by his dad, Jack (seen in the pic), who set up a non-profit that helped catch rainwater in Africa

Recently he launched the _ForWater app, which gives anyone the knowledge and power to take the water filters to remote communities themselves, piggybacking their own travel plans. The app also helps people share their experiences and inspires others to fundraise or support trips, even if they’re not heading off on holiday.The youngest ‘courier’ so far has been an 11 year old boy who used a family holiday to Indonesia to deliver filters he’d bought through fundraising.

“It’s guerrilla humanitarianism. Instead of us trying to rally all these people and organise them we use people who are already going to these places,” Rose explains. “We can give them all the knowledge and solutions and filters and they can add a socially conscious layer to their travels.”

His solution is so simple that it’s almost a punch to the gut as you wonder why this hasn’t been done before. Last year over 1.2 billion people travelled, if even the smallest percentage of them signed up to Rose’s trailblazing delivery network, that 1 in 10 statistic could be consigned to history.

So far Waves for Water has delivered 160-170,000 filters. Each lasts for one million gallons, serving anything from a single family to a entire village. And each one is a complete gamechanger,

“The tech behind our filters is one of the best advancements of our time,” he says. “In two seconds you can transform someone’s life and take water that will kill you and make it safe.”

Waves For Water help in Myanmar

Just one small water filter can clean one million gallons of water

Dylan Gordan

The lottery of charity is changing, with many no longer happy to just chuck money at a safe bet from the sidelines. Rose is an example of one of a growing number of lone entrepreneurs who see philanthropy as a way of life rather than a guilt-relieving flutter.

“Philosophically I want us to be looked at as a shining example of a new way to participate in the world, a new way to be socially conscious, as a way of life not as a do gooder,” he explains.

He has two things going for him. Social media platforms like Instagram make it easy to disseminate his projects and the other is a rise in active individuals who share his drive to problem solve global issues.

“The new generation wants to get their hands dirty. The older generation just wants to throw money at the problems and push it under a rug,” he says. “Millennials and beyond are different, they seem to care more. I have such faith in humanity and especially in the next generation.

Could you take water filters on holiday for Waves For Water
“I approach any of these projects like I would as a professional athlete. I’m competitive and I want to win”

Rose is big believer in one person making a difference. His one man battle with dirty water has become a global war of attrition, one he attacks with experience from his former professional life.

“I’m an athlete, I’m used to training. I approach any of these projects like I would as a professional athlete. I’m competitive and I want to win,” he explains.

He certainly needs that training. Rose delights in taking on projects to deliver filters to some of the most remote communities on earth, his small team means he can get to places more easily than the big multinational charities.

“It’s more like a covert mission and being special ops,” he explains. “I get really excited when we go into somewhere where other people haven’t been able to help. In Nepal you have these areas that take four days worth of hiking to reach 80 villagers, and the big organisations aren’t going to bother as it’s not cost effective. We’re adventurers and have been since day one. We see it as a challenge, whatever it takes we’ll get there.”

Rose’s professional teams are only the beginning. Giving the power to anyone to help deliver safe drinking water anywhere in the world and disrupting the way in which we interact with charities is the real story - a global bet that is worth backing.

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