The Ripple Effect

By Olivia Feste

Guy Laliberté ;— fire-eater, stilt-walker, accordionist—started up the Cirque du Soleil in 1984. The infamous circus act took off like a clown shot from a canon—with a bang, to a crowd full of awe. Over a span of almost 30 years, the Cirque singlehandedly redefined circus arts with its spectacles of death-defying acrobatics and its transcendent acts of beauty. “My dream, when I started Cirque du Soleil, was to travel and entertain. I am still living this dream,” says Mr. Laliberté. And around the world, we have been rapt.

Travelling with Cirque du Soleil has allowed Mr. Laliberté to see how people live around the globe. “With Cirque du Soleil, I was able to see humanity’s treasures, as well as humanity’s injustices,” he says. “It was also the Cirque that I launched my first social initiatives, with a program called Cirque du monde, over 15 years ago.” Cirque du monde is an outreach organization run by Cirque du Soleil that teaches circus arts to at-risk youth around the world.

On the cusp of Cirque du Soleil’s twenty-fifth anniversary, Guy Laliberté considered how best to celebrate the circus’ achievements. “I was wondering how to mark this important step—either by celebrating our success or by committing ourselves to the future.”

He decided on the latter. And he decided to focus his attention on issues pertaining to water. “Water,” says Mr. Laliberté, “has always been a source of inspiration for me. It is at the heart of my life. It is also the source of life.” He adds, “When I researched the subject, a troubling statistic made me react immediately: someone dies every 20 seconds of a disease associated with contaminated water. Analyzing the subject further, I realized that water is at the heart of all of humanity’s issues: education, health, pollution, biodiversity, women’s rights, etc. I created ONE DROP for the future.”

The Weight Of Water

In developed countries, there’s nothing more ordinary than turning the knob on your tap. Water is water. That we may access it freely—to drink, to brush our teeth, to wash our dishes—is a right we take for granted. But 70 per cent of people living in rural areas of the world cannot access adequate sanitation. Women and children walk an average of 6 km to often unprotected water sources, such as rivers or muddy dugouts, to obtain water for their household. And because the average weight of water carried is 20 kg, carrying the water containers is an exhausting, time-consuming task that leaves women and children with less time for productive activities.

What it adds up to: globally, a billion people can’t access water in either sufficient quantity or adequate quality, and almost half of the world’s population drinks untreated water.

We need all the initiatives we can get.

The One Drop Foundation’s mission is to fight worldwide poverty by providing sustainable access to safe water. Its technical projects in developing countries improve access to water, ensure food security and promote gender equality. So far, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, India and Nicaragua are all countries that have benefitted from ONE DROP’s involvement.

One Dro p’s Executive Director, Lili-Anna Peresa, says, “We always work in rural areas, in poor, isolated areas, in places that are the least served. We work in conjunction with non-profit organizations, as well as with the local governments, because we want to see an impact locally.” They are careful not to make themselves redundant: “We go to places where there are few organizations so that we can avoid doing the same job twice,” she says. In Latin America, One Dro p has the support, says Ms. Peresa, of one of the world’s most reputable charities. “We work with an important partner, Oxfam Quebec.” She adds, “I’ve been the Director of One Dro p for two years, and I find it’s a completely innovative approach. I’ve never seen another organization like this.”

Ms. Peresa’s most memorable moment was when a woman in Nicaragua said to her, “I’ll never be poor again.”

One Dro p is a two-pronged project: inspired by the creative experience of Cirque du Soleil and its international program for street kids, Cirque du monde, the One Dro p Foundation uses circus arts, folklore, popular theatre, music, dance and the visual arts to promote education, community solidarity and generate public awareness of water issues. “This art-education model very much inspired an important branch of One Dro p,” says Mr. Laliberté.

The Sky’s the Limit

What is Guy Laliberté willing to do to bring awareness to his cause? Well, in September of 2009, Mr. Laliberté took his dreams to the stars. In a spaceship. He was Space Adventures’ seventh private spaceflight client, and had the opportunity to spend 11 days orbiting the Earth. “He made this trip for personal reasons,” says Ms. Peresa, “but it was a wonderful opportunity to sensitize people on the issues of water, and afterwards, Guy was invited to a number of international panels that helped put water on an international platform.”

“I had the privilege of seeing my Earth, Gaia, from space; the Earth’s fragility compared to the immensity of the universe,” says Mr. Laliberté. Juggling these versatile points of view on the world continues to keep Guy Laliberté, and us, both entertained and engaged.

Summer 2011, Vol 3 N°3

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