It all began in March 2017 with three Ontario university students making plans for an ambitious homecoming road trip across Africa. The group, including University of Ontario Institute of Technology mechanical engineering student Yasin Othman, talked about a north-south journey of some 7,000 kilometres from Somalia to South Africa.
“The original idea was to go through countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, go on safaris, explore and do some fun, touristy things,” says Othman. “But prior to going, we learned that in Somalia and Ethiopia, there is a drought resulting in an impending famine. Some 15 million people, mostly women and children, are severely food insecure because of something as simple as having no water. Being originally from Somalia and Ethiopia, we couldn’t justify splurging on tourism without doing something to help.”
So with a shoestring budget, they decided to spend their money instead on used camera equipment to film a documentary about water issues in their African homeland. Their film, The Water Project, premiered at Toronto’s Daniels Spectrum Ada Slaight Hall on Jan. 27.
The trio went on to form Rootworks, a non-profit aiming to provide long-term access to clean water for rural communities in Somalia and Ethiopia.
“Our solution involves building sand dams: structures capable of capturing millions of litres of water at a fraction of the cost of traditional wells,” explains Othman, Rootworks co-founder. “Today, communities dispatch people (often women and children) on eight-hour round trips, on foot, to obtain water. Sand dams can provide 1,000 people with enough drinking water for one year without rainfall.”
Photo: Yasin Othman (right) with Rootworks partners Anwar Dawud (left) and Hussien Seman