When Yasin Othman was planning what he anticipated to be a “wild road trip” to East Africa with two friends, he realized there was a huge problem plaguing communities there: drought.
“We felt it would be something we’d be guilty about if we just went there and had a lot of fun and pooled a lot of money on tourism,” said the 23-year-old, who is a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. “Instead, we decided to put that money into creating a documentary.”
Hussien Seman, Anwar Dawud and Othman, all from Scarborough, Ont., packed their bags with cameras and microphones, and they headed to Ethiopia and Somalia in September of last year for their initiative they’ve called Rootworks.
They spent three months in East Africa, which was enough time for them to experience first-hand what a drought can mean for a community: scarce access to safe drinking water.
“I was sleeping, I ran out of bed and I have diarrhea,” describes Othman in an interview they shot on their trip as he got sick from ingesting the water.
Many people living outside of the cities in Ethiopia collect water from shallow bodies of water, which are often contaminated with human and animal waste, worms or disease, according to the Water Project.
During their time spent interviewing, exploring and filming, they discovered they had come across one sand dam, and they realized more of these would be a low-cost solution.
They are now editing their documentary in their tiny Scarborough office in hopes of making money from screenings to help build more.
“We hope that something that we build can be used by people with little-to-no maintenance for several years,” said 25-year-old Dawud.
The Water Project describes these dams as reinforced rubble cement walls people build across seasonal sandy rivers that retain rainwater to use during the drier seasons.
The team is hoping to partner with non-governmental organizations around the world to help build the sand dams.
Othman’s Oshawa, Ont., university is also funding the project — UOIT’S Firefly Entrepreneurship fund has given him and his team $3,000.
The Rootworks team also won $1,500 on Monday night at a Firefly pitch competition, where they won by a public vote.
“They had demonstrated that they’ve done their homework, they have that passion, dedication and that drive to really provide the solutions required,” said Jeffrey Peng, a student liaison officer at UOIT.
The trio has now added an epidemiologist to their team to help plan out building the dams, and they are aiming to debut their documentary in November.
“We hope this is what will motivate people to be more cognizant and aware of the crisis there and be willing to help,” said Othman.