Aussie Charity Making Water Safe To Drink In Africa

10/02/2016 3:25 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Matt Henricks/Water Works

Ten bucks says the term "team building activity" doesn't immediately fill you with warm fuzzy thoughts and a burning sense of excitement -- unless, of course, catching Ken from accounts in a game of trust is something that floats your boat, in which case, good for you.

But for most, the premise of team building with your colleagues isn't necessarily something to write home about, and fair enough.

But what if, instead of playing a game of paintball or being forced to take part in a fun run together -- your 'team building activity' had the power to change the lives of people on the other side of the globe?

This is exactly the premise of the 'Water Works Program', the brainchild of organisational psychologist Matt Henricks.

Essentially, the program is a corporate team-building activity which sees participants, in groups of three, assemble a "completely revolutionary water filtration unit" which will be used to make dirty water drinkable in communities in Uganda.

Taking only two hours to put together, each filtration unit built provides enough clean drinking water for 200 people, per day.

"I have been involved in charitable team building projects for quite a while now," Henricks -- who also founded The Helping Hands program, whereby office workers can make prosthetic hands for land mine victims -- told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Water Works is the latest project we have been involved in, and basically it's a way of getting together ordinary Aussies in the workplace and donating clean drinking water to people overseas.

"Effectively, when people get involved they get an educational opportunity, they get the fun of putting together a system themselves, they filter dirty water and taste it... basically they get a sense of what it must be like to have to drink dirty water every day, and how life changing it must be to have a water kit that they are donating.

"One billion people do not have access to clean drinking water across the globe -- and it is a dream of mine to try and fix that."

In a nice touch, groups are encouraged to draw a picture and attach it to their completed water kit, which is then tracked until its final destination.

"We track each and every donation and where it goes," Henricks said. "So the group that made their system and donated it will get a photo back from the medical centre, school or family where it ended up.

"The artwork they created acts almost like a receipt. They get a photo back, they see that artwork on the other side of the world, and they know that, in two hours, they changed the way this family lives."

water works program

Each filtration unit built provides enough clean drinking water for 200 people, per day.

Since being launched in April 2015, the Water Works Program has donated kits to 383 households and to eight schools or health centres. Henricks is hoping to hit the 5000 mark by the end of 2017.

"I think people enjoy the process because it's inherently purposeful, it's not just a waste of time," Henricks said. "It's not just a contrived activity. You are helping a real family on other side of the world who, without the kit, may be depending on a water source that's also used for livestock, wild animals, bathing and washing clothes.

"As a result, there are a number of completely avoidable water borne diseases which unnecessarily take lives -- and this kit, which takes two hours to assemble, can change all that."

Henricks recently returned from Uganda where, for the first time, he distributed the water kits to an entire community.

“When we showed people how to turn on the tap and explained that the water was now pure and clean, they were completely amazed," Henricks said.

"The gift of clean water is something these people would never have dreamt of. Often they have to walk several miles to collect the dirty water they have access to. I can’t wait to go back to Uganda in March to make sure more people in need of clean water, get the help they need and deserve."

In terms of why he chose to make the program a corporate team building activity rather than, say, a charity drive, Henricks says he believes there is a big future in this kind of charity fundraising.

"My personal goal or hope is that, by challenging the model of how to fund important charity projects, philanthropic team building will continue to grow as a category," Henricks told HuffPost Australia.

"I think people like the fact they aren't just giving us money and hoping for the best.

"The actual company is spending money they would have been spending anyway on team building activities anyway, and in terms of our partners in Uganda -- we are helping them access a whole bunch of funds they wouldn’t be able to access in the past."

Keen to get your workplace involved? Find out more about Water Works facilitated programs here.

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