Seven lessons learned from shooting a year’s worth of video content for our monthly giving community.

charity: water
Jun 1, 2018 · 9 min read

Yesterday we launched Season 3 of the recurring video series that we make for our monthly giving community. It’s a four-episode journey to Rwanda to meet some of the people we’re serving and see how our local partner is bringing clean water to families living in hilly and hard-to-reach rural areas. And we are so excited to be sharing it.

While a third season may not seem like much of a milestone, our team is celebrating today. 1) Because, well… we pulled it off. 2) Because the incredible group of families who support our operating costs continue to trust us enough to invest in awesome content like this. And 3) because the 23,000 people who are generously giving every single month will hopefully feel even more connected to their impact today.

Before we put away the champagne and shift our focus to Season 4, we want to pause, reflect back on our experiences, and share some of our favorite behind-the-scenes moments and takeaways with you.

Here are seven lessons we’ve learned from a year’s worth of filming The Journey

Lesson #1: The water crisis is personal.

Every person we sit down with has a unique story. Even two women living next door to each other in the same community, relying on the same dirty water source, will have completely different experiences.

Because it’s not just about the water source! It’s about the way water impacts each person’s life. And our lives are full of different little puzzle pieces — family dynamics, responsibilities, values, opportunities, challenges.

That nuance — the context of what your life is like — makes it personal. And time and time again, that’s what makes it powerful.


Lesson #2: Clean water isn’t the only thing worth celebrating.

One of the coolest parts of these trips has been hearing stories about the local partners we empower to do the work.

Our supporters aren’t just funding physical water projects; they’re also investing in the local teams who bring the projects to life.

We’ve met drilling teams in Ethiopia who spend 10 months of the year on the road, away from their families, so they can help as many people as possible during the dry season.

“If people in America send money to help, how can I not work 10 months a year? Even 10 months isn’t enough. How can I not work 12?” — Afework, Chief Driller in Ethiopia

We’ve met passionate partner teams in Cambodia who work (and live!) out of field offices during the week so they can be closer to the communities they’re trying to serve.

And we’ve met the determined staff in Rwanda who are working to create massive pipe networks in an effort to bring clean water and sanitation to “Everyone Forever.”

These women and men are absolute experts. And even local heroes in the communities they serve. Their stories… about passion and sacrifice and working hard to serve their own people… continue to be one of the most incredible sources of inspiration.


Lesson #3: You can’t write it in advance.

Both our Water Programs team and our local partners help provide story leads and ideas before we go on each of these trips. We always have a plan for where we’re headed and what we’re going to see. But it’s just not possible to script it before we get there.

Because we don’t know what we don’t know!

For instance, we didn’t know we’d meet Hilfti in Ethiopia until she stood up at the welcome ceremony and introduced herself. We didn’t know she makes and sells injera lids until we went to her house and saw her work station. We didn’t know she was sacrificing so much so her kids could have a better future until we sat down in her home and asked questions.

That’s the value of the experience. Getting to see the context, ask more questions, and react to it in real-time. And while it certainly makes our job harder (we’re often writing intros and outros at 4:00 am before leaving the hotel or in the car en route to the next location), it’s also what makes it authentic.


Lesson #4: Being human makes it more human.

It’s easy to get lost in a world of scripts and shot lists and forget that our personal experience matters too. Not just to us, but the people around us.

When we make time to enjoy it — to laugh in the shade with a drilling team or challenge kids to a soccer game or embarrass ourselves dancing to local music, it makes our team more human. Which makes everyone else feel more comfortable being human too.

Then we get to see and capture real personalities and real relationships. We get to witness the human moments.

And those human moments bridge the gap. Ultimately, that sense of relatability is the thing that eliminates the distance between us all.


Lesson #5: We’re in it together.

These trips are challenging. The first few days are always a frenzy of questions — trying to get a sense of what each episode should look like and how it all fits together. We’re often in communities from sunrise to sunset and then organizing ideas and writing scripts in the time in between.

In addition to all of that, you have sweaty days, cold showers, uninvited creepy-crawlies, one-ply toilet paper, terrible instant coffee, unreliable electricity, long car rides, stomach sickness, etc.

All of that to say: Having the right team matters.

It’s the difference between feeling at home and feeling homesick.

We find joy in the little things. We stay flexible. We treat each other well. We laugh even when we’re stressed. And we have a ton of fun together.


Lesson #6: Tyler should own more shirts.

Ahem. This one speaks for itself.


Lesson #7: It always pays to say yes.

Some of the best people we’ve met and stories we’ve found have originated in the least expected moments… an invitation for coffee, a shared meal, a hammock, a card game, an office tour…

In every case, we found ourselves closer to an impactful story or important context because we said yes.

In Ethiopia, we got invited to a baptism at someone’s house and spent 45 minutes sharing food and drink with total strangers and toasting to the parents of a new baby.

While most of that didn’t fit into Season 2, it still informed what we wrote! That moment revealed character in the people living in that community. Even with a language barrier, we got to see the way they treated each other or us as guests.

The Journey series is about the impact of clean water, yes. But it’s also about the people we’re serving. Loving moms and dads. Energetic little kids. Hopeful teachers. Aspiring entrepreneurs.

Saying yes is how we get to know the people.


We truly are so proud and excited to be sharing these stories. There’s a trailer for Season 3 below. If you’re not a member of The Spring, we’d love to invite you to join now and watch the full series.

This is our vision for solving the water crisis — a community of people invested in making a difference; giving as much or as little as they can every month.

Every $30 can bring clean water to one person, and as you’ve seen here, the impact for every single one of those people is incredibly profound.

Thanks for reading. And hope to see you in Season 4 from Uganda!

Written By: Tyler Riewer
Photos By:
Jeremy Snell, Cubby Graham, & Tyler Riewer

charity: water

Stories, thoughts and ideas from the team at charity: water.

Thanks to Ali Troute

charity: water

Written by

We're a nonprofit organization on a mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to every single person on the planet.

charity: water

Stories, thoughts and ideas from the team at charity: water.

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