When I first meet Edward Pollock, the founder of The Aqua Initiative, he bounds over to my table in a branch of Costa Coffee full of apologies for running 10 minutes late – a meeting with the team at Wild Wadi ran slightly over. Another 10 minutes into our interview and I’m struggling to believe that the person sitting opposite me, who has spent the past three years lobbying potential sponsors, still wears school uniform.
Pollock was 14 when he set up the organisation three years ago, raising money to build water pumps in developing countries. Now aged 17, he has raised more than Dhs60,000 with the help of Aqua Initiative co-founder Aman Ghose, who is currently in his first year at university in the US. ‘It started in 2008 – we had to do a school project that involved helping other people,’ explains Pollock. ‘You could choose to help Dubai, or your friends, or family – or you could help the whole world, which is what I decided to do. My first idea was to make a water pump, just one in Africa or India, so I thought I could organise a couple of events and raise money for it. But when I started researching, it really shocked me how much of an issue water poverty really is, especially as I’d just arrived in Dubai, a desert using so much water.’
Four years on and Pollock now spends about five hours after school each day working on the project, which annually culminates in the school’s carnival – taking place this year on Thursday March 1 – ahead of World Water Day on Thursday March 22.
‘I love it. This is the best part of my year, because I just don’t stop – I’m so busy,’ he enthuses. Having been a student at Dubai International Academy for five years since moving from Aberdeen to Dubai with his family, Pollock has held four World Water Day presentations at the school and organised three carnivals – he’s determined that this year will be their best yet. Impressively, Pollock has been meeting sponsors on his own since Ghose departed for the US, and their two families took a step back after initially helping them make contact with a number of companies.
‘At first it was difficult, but once we started a lot of people were impressed by how much we believed in the project and how passionate we were about the causes. Our school has been really supportive as well – they’ve helped us organise it,’ he explains. As a result, they were able to contribute to a pump in Rwanda last year, providing running water to a project on the brink of failure.
‘When we first started we thought it would just be one year, one pump, and we’d be done. But it’s now part of our annual school calendar and throughout the year students raise money to give to us,’ he continues, adding that from just 10 student volunteers in the first year, the number now stands at around 90 for the 2012 event.
The carnival on Thursday March 1 will see Dubai International Academy host everything from a climbing mountain and bungee trampoline to a gladiator arena and music concert, with performances from some of the school’s own talent. Pollock has also managed to arrange a raffle with sponsor Wild Wadi, as well as food stalls run by Subway and local ice cream company Desert Chill. Of course, there will be an educational element throughout the event, highlighting issues of global water poverty and areas in particular need. ‘We like to spread the money to as many places a possible. If we give the money to a big charity like Water Aid, we don’t really know what our money has done, so we’ve started donating to smaller charities such as Women’s Interlink Foundation, based in India and Bangladesh.
‘If people just come along to the carnival, learn something and spend a couple of dirhams, it can go a long way towards achieving what we’re aiming for,’ he urges. ‘If we can get a couple of hundred people doing that, another couple of hundred will live because of that later on.’
The Aqua Initiative’s third annual World Water Day Carnival takes place on Thursday March 1, 2.30pm-7pm. Entry is free, donations are welcomed. Dubai International Academy, Emirates Hills, www.theaquainitiative.com (no number).