After World Vision approached Jars of Clay about the problem of AIDS in Africa, the band spent a full year using its concerts as a forum for passing along troubling statistics and heartbreaking stories to its audience, introducing fans to an epic problem most people had yet to address in a meaningful way. The problem, though, was that the members of Jars of Clay didn’t fully understand the problem, either.
“I needed to go to Africa,” says vocalist Dan Haseltine (pictured above). “I had never met anybody with AIDS and didn’t really know what it was like there. So, in December of , after talking about it for a whole year, I went on a trip.” What Haseltine found in South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe would forever change the way he perceived the African AIDS problem, putting a human face on those statistics and inspiring a newfound sense of urgency for a solution. “One of the first things I did when we landed—the guy that was hosting me put me in a car and said, ‘We’re just going to drive into this community, and I want you to look around. I want you to find somebody who looks older than 15.’ And I thought, how hard can that be? We started driving around, and after 10 minutes, I didn’t see anyone. And he said, ‘Well, you won’t. Almost all of them are dead. They’ve all died from AIDS.’ I had no idea.”
The Blood:Water Mission was launched nearly as soon as Haseltine returned home. “Eighty percent of all deaths in Africa are water-related, because of all the bacteria and diseases in the water that people are forced to drink because they don’t have access to clean water,” he says. “And when you’ve got AIDS so prevalent in these communities, it’s destroying the immune system. But it’s not AIDS that’s killing these people—it’s the diseases that they’re contracting through the water when they don’t have an immune system to handle them. You look at it and go ‘Wow. What can we do to fix this?’ Because it is fixable.”
Rapper Jay-Z also traveled to Angola and South Africa with a U.N. contingent and MTV film crew last fall to see the continent’s water crisis firsthand. “It’s the most basic element on the planet,” he says at the beginning of the resulting documentary, Diary of Jay-Z in Africa: Water For Life. “It gives life to everything, and it’s seemingly plentiful. But more than a billion people can’t get clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing; 2.6 billion people don’t have access to adequate sanitation; and 2 million children die every year from diseases caused by contaminated water.”
The Blood:Water Mission has already completed 208 wells with another 300 set to start this year, and Jay-Z has set a goal of raising money for 1,000 “play pumps,” a creative system where a children provide power for the pump by playing on a brightly colored merry-go-round. “We figured out this rough equation that basically one U.S. dollar equals clean water for one African for an entire year in the communities that we’re working in, and that’s a key,” Haseltine says, his voice growing excited. “Everybody looks at famine and poverty from a 30,000-foot perspective, and it’s this massive problem and there’s no way to get involved or connect yourself to it or even understand what that looks like. That’s why I think [Blood:Water] has connected so well, because people see that it’s something really simple that they can do. It’s not much of a financial investment, but it gets people in the conversation. And once you’re in the conversation, it’s not easy to pull out. You really have to make the decision that you don’t care [in order] to get out of the conversation, and most people can’t do that. They see the injustice, and it’s real, and they see how tangibly they can make a difference.”
For more information, visit BloodWaterMission.com, MTV.com/overdrive/?id=154981 and Playpumps.org.