One of the things at ONA that we are constantly grateful for is the opportunity to work with such genuinely awesome people. From photographers to retail partners, it’s truly the people that make us love our jobs. Every once in a while, however, we have the chance to work with individuals who inspire us to think beyond the bags and beyond our roles in New York City. We recently gave bags to a group of charity: water photographers who traveled to Malawi in order to bring clean water to a community in need.
One of the things we love most about charity: water is how they use incredible imagery to inspire people to get involved; they focus on the good that can come out of clean water instead of the oft-depressing reality of communities relying on unsafe water supplies. The walls in their SoHo office are covered with larger-than-life photos of individuals who have benefited from reliable clean water sources. The videos that they share truly tell a story about a life without clean water, and the strength of a community that comes together to bring access to this source of life.
Tyler Riewer of charity: water was kind enough to share some photos of the ONA bags in Malawi, along with their story of what they achieved in Malawi. In his own words:
Jamie Pent, Esther Havens (famed c:w photographer) and I recently spent five days camping and living inside a community in the middle of nowhere in Nkhoma.
These two villages were located at least thirty minutes away from any form of electricity and cut off from the rest of the world by a ravine outside the community.
Not only was that ravine limiting access to schools and hospitals, but it was the only thing that prevented them from receiving clean water earlier this year when the village on the other side did… because there was no way for the drilling rig to get across.
After that day, these people became determined. At least one person from every household spent two months carrying rocks and bags of sand to the ravine until they had created a passable road across it. It was the first time that clean water had ever seemed like a possible reality for them.
What we didn’t know before we got there was that they had already finished building the road and that the drilling rig would arrive during our visit. WHAT?! I know.
We were able to show the result of that work… a convoy of trucks driving down the road in the distance, drilling rig at the front… people running down the hill at the sound… the rig rolling right over that bridge and into the community.
People sang and danced all day long. Waiting and hoping for clean water. We talked to women who were skipping chores because they didn’t want to miss anything. The entire community was there… waiting eagerly outside the ropes as drillers put pipe after pipe into the ground. 20 meters. 30 meters. 50 meters. Hours went by. And just as they were about to give up, water finally bubbled up from the ground.
Prior to this day, women had been getting water from a hole next to the river — a source they often had to share with pigs. They were walking to this place four to five times a day and often waiting in line. When that hole ran dry, they had to sit and wait for it to slowly refill.
But having clean water for them wasn’t just about saving time and work. And it wasn’t about better health. To them, water was a symbol of progress. Independence. Life.
When that moment came, the people in this village came charging past the ropes to the drill, and the drillers let them have it… flushing the pipe over and over again, shooting water into the sky so they could dance and sing in the rain.
I can’t even say what that was like.
One of the most important parts of working here, for me, is changing the way people think about charity and giving. But this moment was all about water. It has never been so clear to me how much water impacts lives.
Really, the entire week was emotional. There’s something very special about these people. They way they live. Their generosity. Their spirit. They welcomed us in instantly — not as people who were paying for them to have clean water, but as guests in their community. They shared hard stories and spoke over and over again about things like forgiveness and service.
As we drove away on Friday, the women lined up and sang once more. I asked our driver what they were singing, and he said, “It’s a song of appreciation. They’re saying it’s bittersweet — that you are like morning dew because you were here and you were beautiful and now you’re gone.”
The holiday season can often become overwhelmed with excess and stress, but as it gets into full swing, we urge you to remember the spirit of the season–and be grateful for all that you have, like the gift of access to clean water. Thank you to Tyler, Jamie and Esther for sharing the story of charity: water in Malawi!