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Water brings Damon to India

Hollywood actor Matt Damon visits a slum in Bangalore’s Maruthi Nagar, where his charity supports drinking water and sanitation projects

Bangalore, Aug. 27: Matt Damon did a Jason Bourne in Bangalore, slipping away quietly like a true agent after inspecting slums that are beneficiaries of drinking water and sanitation projects funded by his non-profit organisation.

The original Bourne star was accompanied by Gary White, co-founder and CEO of Water.Org.

Damon greets some women, who told him how much the loans to build toilets in their homes had made a difference

Damon had come yesterday morning around 8.30, before traffic clogged Bangalore roads. A Toyota Fortuner carried him to the slums on the city’s outskirts where residents had no clue about the star status of their benefactor. Clad in casuals, Damon interacted with them with the help of a translator.

In about 90 minutes, his express operation covered a slum in Maruthi Nagar and another in Vijaya Nagar, some 35km from the heart of Bangalore. While most of the slums are badly affected by poor water supply during summer, those on the outskirts usually suffer the maximum. By around 10.30, Damon had left Bangalore.

Damon interacts with residents. He spent about two hours in Bangalore, dividing his time between two slums

This is not the first time the actor has come to India. The 42-year-old, who plays an ex-CIA agent hounded by his past in The Bourne trilogy, was in Goa nine years ago to shoot for The Bourne Supremacy.

Women from the slums who interacted with Damon recounted how earlier they had to queue up before the lone community toilet.

But now with grants from Water.Org, most of the families have built their own toilets, saving Rs 2 per person that they had to pay when they used the public facility.

Some women explained to Damon how saving the fee translated into a decent sum in a family of six or seven.

“I love coming here. I first worked here as an actor. I love the energy and going into these villages, I mean the children. I am a father... it is impossible not to see your children’s faces in these kids and the village visits are incredibly exciting... so that part of it is very good, very moving,” Damon told PTI.

The actor makes an offering at a temple in Maruthi Nagar. PTI pictures

The Good Will Hunting and Saving Private Ryan star has been working in India since 2008 to help the needy access small loans through Water.Org’s micro finance institution (MFI) partners for water projects. Grants are given for sanitation programmes.

The star on a different mission said creating a positive impact in the lives of the poor was really worth it.

“From a selfish personal standpoint, (it) is just wonderful and it’s the best part of the whole thing... (When) we started with the first grant, the target was 1.6 lakh people and we blew through that target, which was great for us and we ended up with 2.5 lakh people,” he said.

Water.Org’s water credits or small loans help slum dwellers develop water resources like a tube well. And the results have impressed Damon.

“These loans are paying back at 98 per cent, so that’s wonderful,” he said.

Under the initiative, those identified as needy by the 20 MFI in 11 states and a Union Territory are loaned Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000 as “water credit”.

“The target for spring 2016 is to reach an additional eight lakh people, which will put us over a million in total, which is great and we are on track to do it,” said Damon.