Portrait / heribert wirth
Werte / N° 23
For more than 30 years, HERIBERT WIRTH has been battling poverty throughout the world with his foundation
y role model? Heribert Wirth doesn’t have to ponder
this question for very long. “My father was my role mod- el. I wanted to be like my father.” He then pauses and
takes a deep breath. “But with one difference: I wanted to earn money first and then use it to help others.” Anton Wirth, head of
a large Catholic cooperative bank saw things differently. He had thousands of council houses built without ever thinking about making a profit. “My father always worked for others, never for himself.” Anton Wirth died of a heart attack aged just 66, decorated with virtually every medal that is awarded to those who have made a contribution to society. And his son has kept his word. Heribert Wirth first made his own fortune. He is now 82 years old and is still helping others.
The impressive results of his personal mission are spread around the entire world. With projects sponsored by his “Wasser für die Welt” (Water for the World) foundation, Wirth and his wife Margit have brought hope to more than 250 villages in developing and emerging countries. Wells sunk in Afghanistan, India and Togo, the purchase of 77 water-carrying donkeys in Eritrea, development of sewage treatment facilities in India, rainwater tanks for Uganda. And that's just a small selection. But Heribert Wirth’s commitment comes with certain conditions. “In most cases, the villages need more than just fresh water,” he says. “Water certainly makes things better for the villagers. But afterwards you must make sure that the girls can attend school.” After all, in Wirth’s experience, in many cultures women and girls are regarded as being just about good enough to fetch water. He will not accept this. This is why his water projects are always accompanied by education commitments.
During hundreds of business trips in the Middle East, Wirth re- alised that the root cause of poverty was a lack of water. As an ex- pert in building technology – back then, his company was the big- gest German player of this type abroad – he worked on spectacular construction projects where he was responsible for water supply,
remote heating systems and air conditioning. In 1986, he estab- lished “Wasser für die Welt”. From then on, he invested part of his income in the foundation. Shortly after, he retired due to a serious illness. That was 32 years ago.
Wirth’s life achievements include the Nepal Himalaya Park in Wiesent near Regensburg, Germany, which is now also a founda- tion. The heart of the nine-hectare site is the Nepalese Pavilion, which was exhibited at Expo 2000 in Hanover. Wirth has planted the world’s largest collection of Himalayan plants in the park. But here he too had a problem with water. The annual dry periods forced him to rethink. Many of the plants he is sowing come from desert areas.
Heribert Wirth knows no rest. Not with his park nor his aid projects. “I can never be satisfied when I know that there is so much poverty in the world.” And will he carry on until the end, like his father? “Of course!”
TEXT: Martin Häusler
ILLUSTRATION: Carla Fuentes
In the beginning was music: Heribert Wirth earned his first money writing lyrics for popular music. After completing a bank apprenticeship, which he did to please his father, the twenty-year-old es- tablished what was later to become Scheu + Wirth AG. The building technology ex- pert took on projects that others consid- ered undeliverable. In 1986, together with his wife, he founded the “Wasser für die Welt” foundation.
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