An Interview with Ian Thorpe

On this rather special occasion AquAid having reached the incredible milestone of having donated £10 million to charity – our roving interviewer chatted with Ian Thorpe, CE of The Africa Trust.

Ian Thorpe

Ian, along with Paul Searle (the Managing Director of AquAid) founded The Africa Trust in 2010. Since then, the difference made in millions of people’s lives throughout Africa has been incalculable.

RI: Why do you do what you do?

IT:  I used to teach at a rural school in Zimbabwe, where we walked for miles to collect water from a shallow open well. A snake fell into the well and decomposed, leading to an outbreak of severe dysentery. Two of the children I was teaching died and I suddenly understood the importance of clean water.  From that time I have dedicated my life to assisting in such situations and I am happy to report that the school where I was teaching now has clean water from an Elephant Pump thanks to funding from AquAid.

RI: What do you enjoy about the work that you do?

IT:  I have been privileged to meet extraordinary people right across Africa and also at AquAid. To be part of a positive change in the lives of so many people gives me a tremendous amount of joy.

RI:  What unusual things have happened to you over the course of your work and travels?

IT:  I was shot in the backside while running away during the assassination of the President of the Comores! In Zimbabwe and Mozambique everyone calls me Shumba, which means ‘lion’. I am apparently a big cat who has nine lives since I have already used up eight of them! Other narrow scrapes include two stabbings, one more bullet wound, various diseases and near death by volcano.

RI:  Are there any particular achievements that you’re proud of?

IT:  I am the only person to have won the St Andrews Medal twice. This medal is awarded each year to recognise the best practical solutions to environmental problems from around the world. In 2005 I won in recognition for my role in designing and propagating the Elephant Pump as a simple way to provide clean water in poor rural communities.  At the time around 250,000 people were already using the pump and today over two million people use the Elephant Pump every day. This figure is growing each month thanks to funding from AquAid and others.  Just after that message was recorded I won the prize again for designing the Elephant Toilet as a simple sustainable sanitation solution for rural Africa.

RI:  Is there a particular anecdote you’d like to share?

IT:  I met a young Liberian, a former child soldier, called Ennist when he was living in desperately poor circumstances in a refugee camp in Ghana. He had fled the civil war in Liberia after going through the most terrible experiences as a child soldier. At one point (when he said ‘no’ to the general commanding him) he was stabbed, stripped, wrapped in barbed wire and thrown into an open pit full of dead people with thousands of huge black ants biting him all over his body.  It took him three days to break free with the last of his energy but even then, his ordeal was not over.

Now this same young man is working as a pump and toilet builder for The Africa Trust in Liberia. He still has nightmares every night, but his days are now positive, filled with hope and laughter. He is able to help other people now and this month, thanks to funding from AquAid, he is delivering emergency supplies to villages that have been quarantined due to the Ebola outbreak. In many parts of Africa, life is still desperately difficult with waterborne diseases still killing millions. AquAid’s partnership with The Africa Trust is having a significant impact, which is growing every month and creating an example for other organisations to follow.