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Hurricane Mitch: 20 years on

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At 8.30 this morning I was giving a speech to a group of people from World Duty Free, who have been supporting The One Foundation’s clean water and sanitation projects for over 12 years through the sales of One Water in stores. It was my thank you to them. A way of telling the story of how One came to be, and the impact they, and thousands of other people have had by their relationship with a rather special and life-changing bottled water brand.

Straight after the talk, I rode my 20 year old, rather battered and bruised, Africa Twin motorbike to the local bike mechanics to have some work done to it. I have a rather special relationship with it too. It got me in to, but more importantly out of, so many near escapes as I rode it around the world. Collisions, earthquakes, a shooting, some ‘challenges’ on the Afghan border and finally getting out of Iran. But more than anything, it eventually got me out of Honduras in October 1998. 20 years ago this week.

A grainy photo from my travels around the world on my bike.

A grainy photo from my travels around the world on my bike.

To describe a category 5 hurricane as an ‘armageddon’ level event probably wouldn’t be too far off. I clearly remember trying to move around the country after Hurricane Mitch hit and having to pick up my fallen bike more times in a space of a few weeks than I had in two years of riding. Riding through rivers, along fallen trees being used as bridges, down mudslides. It was an on-going challenge to keep the bike upright.

One thing that brought the reality of the devastation home was riding down what I thought was a beach, only to come across a tiled floor. A beautifully tiled floor, in the middle of a beach. My mind couldn’t make sense of it until I asked ‘Que es eso? What is this?’ to a lady and her young child passing by. ‘Mi casa’ she replied. There was nothing, not a shred of any form of life, possessions or structure. It, and the town of Morolica had vanished. I stayed in a nearby camp erected by the Red Cross that night and listened to the stories of those that survived.

Hurricane Mitch photo TRCmitch299_N5A.gif
 

Hurricane Mitch killed thousands; ten to twenty thousand some reports say. I don’t know. I just know I spent time with those affected by it. I saw their sadness, but I also saw their resilience and sense of community. They wanted to put back what Mitch had taken from them.

With the help of a few people we raised over $100,000 and helped fund the rebuilding of 13 communities along the Mosquito Coast. It seemed so little given the scale of the challenge they faced.

When I came back to the UK, I wanted to do something to give back too.

That became One. Called One, because you can’t change hundreds of millions of lives overnight, but if you can change one persons life, one day at a time, that’s progress – however small that seems.

Duncan with bottles of One Water

To date, The One Foundation has raised £17.4 million, reaching over 3.3 million people with clean water and sanitation.

To date we’ve helped over 3.3 million people get access to clean water and sanitation so far and have no intention of stopping until everyone in the world has access to safe clean drinking water and better sanitation. As I said in my talk this morning, this isn’t something ‘I’ve’ done, it’s been achieved by everyone that’s every bought, or been connected to The One Brand in some way. I am merely a conduit for action. The legacy of 3.3m people’s lives being changed isn’t my legacy; it belongs to everyone that’s been part of our journey.

On the back of my mobile phone I currently have a sticker which says ‘never, never, never give up’. It was a quote by Winston Churchill.

Like all those people who suffered from Hurricane Mitch and like all of the people in the world who struggle, we, as a human race, should never give up. Never give up trying to make the world a better place, for all humanity. We can all play a role in that; however tiny and insignificant that sometimes feels, we can all do something.

As I reflect on the last twenty years, I feel that I have achieved little, compared to the enormity of the challenge. Perhaps that’s what’s led to me setting up Water Unite – to replicate at scale, through collaboration, what One started. But even with One and Water Unite combined, change requires greater leadership and greater collaboration.

Let me end this blog with the words of Stephen Hawking, taken from his last published works and completed after his death by his family and colleagues. Right at the very, very start of that book, he says this:

“One planet, one human race, I want to add my voice to those who demand immediate action on the key challenges for our global community, I hope that going forward, even when I am no longer here, that people with power can show creativity, courage and leadership. Let them rise to the challenge of the Sustainable Development Goals and act, not out of self interest, but out of common interest. I am very aware of the preciousness of time. Seize the moment, act now.” – Stephen Hawking

 

Common interest. One human race. Act now. Powerful words from an incredible and inspiring gentleman.

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