CLEAN WATER COURIER
JON ROSE’S WAVES FOR WATER LEADS THE CHARGE TOWARD
SUPPLYING CLEAN WATER TO EVERYONE WHO NEEDS IT
Written by Sonja Magdevski
Jon Rose had no intention of becoming a missionary for clean water. He was just doing his job. As a celebrated professional surfer, he was on yet another journey to catch great waves on the open sea off the coast of Sumatra in the fall of 2009. As Rose and his buddies were sailing back to shore, they discovered a 7.6 magnitude earthquake had erupted under the ocean floor beneath them, devastating the Indonesian coast, of which Padang was the hardest hit. They were directly in line with the city.
Part of Rose’s original intention on this trip was to quietly distribute water filters to villagers in Bali, which he had purchased. For a former pro surfer like himself, Bali was a regular stomping ground. Rose’s father, Jack, had helped supply the filters. He ran a nonprofit called RainCatcher, which taught African villagers how to filter rainwater. While his father had always inspired him, nonprofit work was not something to which Rose was ready to dedicate his life. His primary focus was surfing. He figured he’d dabble in it a bit under the radar and enlist his surfing comrades to help out, too. Many surfers regularly travel to remote destinations in developing countries where poverty is an issue. This was to be his first trial run.
Instead, Rose was thrust into a position he had never been before ‘ that of a disaster relief worker, though at the time those words meant nothing to him; he was simply reacting on instinct and blind faith. He took his filters and climbed ashore amid the panic during the first hours after the quake. National and international aid organizations had yet to arrive. The scene was chaos. Smoke, fire, death and destruction. No dramatization. Everyone’s priority was triage. A man directed him to a local Red Cross center where Rose set up his filtration systems. Workers were collecting bodies. He was eager to provide the workers with clean drinking water. The locals were more interested in using this filtered water to clean the wounded.
“I would have never thought about that,” Rose recounted recently on a rare trip home to Southern California after logging in 500,000 airline miles on Waves for Water (W4W) missions last year. He spends at least two weeks of every month on the road to places like Haiti, Afghanistan, Liberia and Indonesia providing clean water filtration systems for impoverished people around the world, who are trapped in the massive void between the filtration technology that exists and the lack of infrastructure that further buries their needs. “Sumatra was an intense crash course over those first 30 hours in international aid work, disaster relief, local aid work and politics. I was thrust in the middle of it with all guns blazing. It affected me tenfold. It was a divine thing. The fact that I was there, had these assets on me and that I had the accessibility throughout the city, I got to learn and see firsthand, under the most trying and extreme circumstances, how effective these solutions are and how much of an impact they can have.”
Rose happily confesses that W4W is his new muse. He is obsessed with providing clean water to every person around the world who needs it. “No one can give me a good reason why it can’t be otherwise,” he said. What W4W has accomplished in its short lifespan is remarkable. It has partnered with a range of notable global organizations such as the U.N. and Compassion International in Haiti to provide clean water to the millions affected by the January 2010 earthquake that killed 300,000 people. Its mission in Brazil has spanned across the entire country from the poorest favela communities in SÃ£o Paulo to the indigenous tribes deep in the Amazon. The list continues: Pakistan flood relief, the Bali project, Uganda, Japan after the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and an Afghanistan campaign where W4W partners with a U.S. military battalion called The Wolfhounds stationed in the Kunar province. People ask Rose all the time what his secret is. “Our program is transparent, easy to understand, measurable and effective, and people have been gravitating toward it,” he said. “It’s really quite simple: We do what we say we are going to do.”
With a shoestring staff and no permanent office, W4W ‘ a nonprofit largely supported by California-based sportswear brand Hurley ‘ engages in what Rose calls “guerilla humanitarianism the third way.” He works with organizations and/or donors that have funding allocated for sanitation programs. This can be the United Nations or the Red Cross, corporate sponsors or individuals who want to make a difference. W4W is the implementing partner in the agreement that provides the service ‘ clean water using filtration systems that are easy to use and inexpensive to buy. The membrane filter that cleans the water is the same technology used to clean blood for dialysis. All it takes is a bucket and hose to implement. The community- or family-size filter cost $50 and $25, respectively. Ultimately, the only thing preventing someone from having clean water is someone else’s ability to purchase these systems and get them where they need to be.
Once in a country, W4W immediately looks to establish local connections with people on the ground, those who understand the circumstances and cultural sensitivities of the area. W4W sets up networks through youth groups, hospitals and religious and community centers, and engages in what Rose calls “train the trainer,” wherein locals ultimately provide the footprint for clean water filtration systems, not W4W. This does two things: empowers local populations to implement a singular device that provides reverberating health benefits through hygiene, while not misappropriating valuable resources by supporting an outside foreign staff ‘ money Rose believes is better used to purchase more filtration systems. W4W revisits locations at regular intervals to check on accountability.
“It is a total empowerment program where the solution speaks for itself,” Rose said. “These people don’t have to trust me. If you train and distribute 10 filters to 10 people, all you need is one person to really use it. Once their baby doesn’t have diarrhea, for instance, for the first time in its life, then they’re completely on board, and they tell everyone else about their new discovery. This thing is amazing, and it works. It becomes a symbol of health for their family and the community.”
PHOTOS: Waves for Water (W4W) founder Jon Rose and Executive Director Christian Troy share a glass of clean water with local women in Afghanistan: Afghani women learn to operate a clean water filtration system ”¢ Jon Rose instructing kids in Indonesia on the filter ”¢ A Peruvian woman uses a filtration device provided by W4W ”¢ A rural community in Afghanistan enjoys access to filtered water thanks to W4W