For two months out of every year, villagers in Adi Etot live comfortably. Crops flourish in the northern Ethiopian community, and natural springs teem with water. Though the water isn’t clean, it’s easy to collect.
But for the remaining 10 months of the year, water is scarce. The ground and springs dry up, and families struggle to collect water from sources hours away. This water needs to be poured through cloth to filter out leeches and worms, and even then, it’s still contaminated by disease-causing pathogens.
This is life in Adi Etot — or it was, until December 2016 when nonprofit charity: water built a clean water well for the community. Now, the organization wants you to connect with Adi Etot in an effort to make the global water crisis personal.
Through a new campaign called Someone Like You, charity: water introduces its supporters to Adi Etot using personal stories and technology. With 360-degree video, drone footage and extensive interviews with every member of the Adi Etot community, the campaign shows what it’s like for a village to get clean water access for the first time.
“Storytelling is one of the most important things that we do,” said Tyler Riewer, brand content lead at charity: water. “We are constantly looking for ways to make the water crisis and its impact real to our supporters.”
The campaign officially launched with a new microsite on March 22, to mark World Water Day. But the process of getting Adi Etot access to clean water really began in October, when Riewer and his team first visited the community. That’s when the importance of personal connection to the water crisis became clear.
“In Adi Etot, no matter who you are, how old you are or what you do for a living, your life revolves around collecting water.”
On the first day of that two-week trip, Riewer met an 85-year-old elder with a wiry gray beard and kind eyes. With the help of a translator, Riewer learned the man had lived in Adi Etot since birth — drinking, cooking and bathing in dirty water for nearly nine decades.
But Riewer’s favorite interaction with the man came days later, when he joined him for coffee without a translator.
“The whole time we were just laughing because we couldn’t communicate,” Riewer said. “But in that moment, seeing the way he treated his family and me as a guest, was when I really began to see my late grandfather in him.”
According to Riewer, all members of the charity: water team met someone they connected with so deeply during their time in Adi Etot. The nonprofit wanted to bring that experience to life for its supporters, so the team began interviewing community members on the role of water in their lives, and what access to clean water would mean to them.
“In Adi Etot, no matter who you are, how old you are or what you do for a living, your life revolves around collecting water,” Riewer said.
The trip to Adi Etot was the longest charity: water has ever spent with a single community, and also comprised the most interviews the nonprofit has ever conducted. In the end, the team interviewed 407 people — everyone in Adi Etot over the age of 4.
“We talked to a little kid who wasn’t able to go to school because she had to collect water,” Riewer said. “We talked to a woman who was pregnant, and her baby was going to be the first person in the community to not know a life with dirty water. We talked to the oldest man in the village and met with the youngest baby in the village to just get a sense of the big story.”
These extensive interviews are compiled as “results” of a quiz, the centerpiece of the Someone Like You campaign. Through the quiz, you can enter your age, values and hobbies, and get matched with a community member from Adi Etot who fits your profile. Then you can learn what access to clean water means for someone similar to you — someone you’d likely never meet otherwise.
“You can find someone in Adi Etot who has a life that is pretty similar to yours.”
“No matter who you are or what your life looks like, you can find someone in Adi Etot who has a life that is pretty similar to yours,” Riewer said. “The only difference is they don’t have access to clean water.”
When charity: water drilled the well for Adi Etot in December, the nonprofit livestreamed it to the organization’s annual event, charity: ball. Supporters in New York City watched as clean water shot up into the air in Adi Etot for the first time. Community members were also watching in person, shouting in excitement when the drill hit water.
Though Riewer and his team haven’t gone back to Adi Etot since drilling the well, he said the nonprofit is planning to return in a couple of months to measure the impact, and hopefully drill another well for the community.
But for now, the current well is helping to curb the various problems Someone Like You outlines when living without clean water access.
“A huge part of it is just giving people enough water to take care of themselves,” Riewer said. “Then, over time, I think we are going to see health improve and see young mothers able to not worry about how the water is affecting their children. It’s a really special thing.”