"Depending on their age, they are in various stages of awareness," Matt Damon tells PEOPLE of his daughters' involvement in the clean-water initiative


Matt Damon is speaking out about a good cause — one that he, in fact, helped create.

The father of four girls — he shares daughters Stella Zavala, 6, Gia Zavala, 8½, and Isabella, 10, with wife Luciana, as well as Luciana’s daughter Alexia — chatted with PEOPLE at “The Water Clouds by Stella Artois” Art Installation in N.Y.C. Wednesday about how his family impacts his investment in the clean-water initiative.

“When you’re out there seeing it — these are kids who are the same age as my kids, and its impossible not to think about your own children in a situation like that,” Damon said at the event, which took place on World Water Day in conjunction with Water.org.

“And then you think about the number of kids who are dying,” continues Damon, who was interviewed alongside his Water.org co-founder Gary White. “Every 90 seconds, a child under the age of 5 dies because of lack of access to clean water and sanitation. These are things that we solved in the West a hundred years ago.”

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Stella Artois Celebrates World Water Day With Public Art Installation, "THE WATER CLOUDS BY STELLA ARTOIS," At The Oculus in NYC
Credit: Craig Barritt/Getty

The Oscar winner, who has spent time among people in extreme poverty in countries like Haiti and Zambia, draws a pretty deep comparison to put the water crisis in perspective.

“We were talking about being in Haiti years ago and this little girl, I was asking her how her life would change, and she was 13 years old, and my oldest was 13 at the time,” Damon recalls. “And I said, ‘You’re going to have more time for homework now, now that you don’t have to go on these water collections,’ and she said, ‘I don’t need any more time on homework — I’m the smartest kid in class.’ ”

“And I said, ‘Well, what are you going to do with all this time?’ And she goes, ‘I’m going to play,’ ” Damon continued. “And it just buckled me because, of course, every 13-year-old kid should have time to play, and this kid hadn’t because she’d spent hours every day scavenging for water for her family.”

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As far as his own daughters go, The Great Wall star says “it’s a process” to get them involved in the initiative.

“Depending on their age, they are in various stages of awareness,” he says. “They’ve been very fortunate to travel a lot in their short lives and so they’ve seen a lot. I think that’s a real gift because I think once you can really see these things with your own eyes, it becomes impossible not to start thinking about how to engage.”

And does Damon think his own girls will be giving back? “I hope – they better!” he says.

  • With reporting by KRISTEN KELLY