H2O - "Help to Others", A Youth Inspired Water Project

by |August 13, 2010

(edits 9/13/10 – photos added, language revision)

On August 10th the Columbia Water Center received a visit from a unique and inspiring project.  A family of film-making activists spent an hour and a half each with Upmanu Lall, our Director, and Paul Block, a researcher with the International Research Institute for Climate Science (IRI), interviewing them in depth about the global water crisis and solutions.  I have no doubt they said very interesting things, but the interviewers themselves are interesting, too.

Project H2O, Help to Others, is a documentary production about a group of high school students in Puerto Rico on an odyssey of learning about global water problems and how to be part of the solution, and much more.

Cecilia Graña-Rosa is a 17 year old, who became an activist three years ago.  She said, “We had been looking for a community service project for our class. We started off with the Life Straw, which is a personal water filter that you can wear around your neck.  We proposed it to the Student Council and said that we should raise money to buy Life Straws and go to Africa or Asia and actually give them to a small community.”

“Our class didn’t approve the project, and we decided to do it for ourselves.  It was going to be a project of over 40-something kids, then it became a project of 3 or 4 kids.  We got the parents involved, and started writing letters to companies to see if they would donate money, having bake sales, and other high school ways of raising money.”  

Photo: Cecilia Graña-Rosa

Nicole Ray, Cecilia Graña-Rosa, Carlos Nevárez, Michael and Hannah Carrady co-founded the project together, and, “We raised enough money, and that summer we went to Africa to deliver the Life Straws.  While we were there we were hit with the fact that it really wasn’t enough.  While it was a good temporary solution to the problem, we started thinking that the straws would help prevent waterborne diseases, but they had to have water first.   We started looking at the big picture of things.  It evolved into a bigger project about the water crisis.  We wanted to focus on getting the awareness out there.

Project H20 organizers in Kenya.Photo: Cecilia Graña-Rosa

“People don’t know that the issue is important.  They don’t understand the gravity of the situation.  We decided that we had to raise awareness.  From that came the idea of the documentary.   We want people to know that not only is it a very serious situation, but it’s a serious situation that can be solved.”

Cecilia’s mother, Nannette Rosa, is a Director and Producer of the film project, and her father, Milton Graña, is a Director and Director of Photography.  Nannette explained that it was the kids who got them interested.  “When they started talking about this and not finding a place in school to meet, we offered a space in our store.  I used to be a film maker but had retired because of some health problems.  My husband is a cinematographer still.  There they were at the back of the store, talking about this problem.  We knew that we had taken water for granted, but we didn’t understand the extent of the water crisis.  We started listening to them and the figures, how many people die each day (from lack of clean water).  6,000 people each day.  We’re talking about millions per year.  Every six seconds.  It was unbearable for us, and we wanted to know what we could do.

“Milton and I sat down and said, these kids are doing something, and we should film it.  There’s a documentary going on in front of us, and we’re not preserving this wonderful process of them understanding the problem better, and trying to be part of the solution to that problem.  So we decided to start filming. We became very involved with the problem, knowing that so many people needed to be helped, and that these kids wanted to be part of alleviating that crisis.”

Milton, Cecilia and Nannette - and all their film equipment

“While we were filming we said, maybe people are like us.  They don’t know about the crisis. We decided to structure this parallel story.  One part is telling the story of how they dealt with the situation, first with the filters and now with the education of their schoolmates.  It’s the story of how you encounter a problem and decide to be part of the solution, even if you’re only 14 or 15.

“At the same time, we are interviewing people who understand, who have identified the problem, and can tell us what the problem is from different perspectives – economic, scientific, water management, policy.  Our documentary, which is Project H20, Help to Others, is explaining the problem of H2O and how we help others.”

So far they have talked to experts such as our own Lall and Block, and also Tony Allan from London College, Peter Rogers at Harvard, Susan Murcott at MIT, Caroline Sullivan, formerly of Oxford, Jennifer Bromley from Oxford, professors who deal with the water issue in Puerto Rico, Diane Raines who wrote Water Wars, and tribal leaders and a doctor in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Nannette has a warm greeting for Upmanu Lall

Milton said, “We have hundreds of hours of film.  We have more interviews to do, and in Puerto Rico we need to take more images, because we have our own water problem there.  We’ve learned that water strategies are very different in different parts of the world.”

Milton filming in Kenya. Photo: Cecilia Graña-Rosa

Cecilia adds, “In Puerto Rico it isn’t as drastic, but it is an example of how even in developed countries there is still a water crisis.  It’s reached the level where it will affect the vast majority of the people.”

(Did I mention that Cecilia is only 17?)

There has already been success on the local level.  Since they began working on it, the high school has become a supporter of the students’ awareness raising efforts.

The trio have a 5 minute film about the early stages of the project, which will be expanded into a feature length documentary.  If they can raise the funds to finish editing the film, it may be completed by December, or summer 2011 at the latest.

According to Cecilia, “We don’t want people to come out of the theater with just broken hearts.  We want them to come out with broken hearts, but knowing that we can do something about it.”

Find more information about Project H2O on their Facebook Page.

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Michael Griffith
Michael Griffith

Dear Julia, This is to inform you and your colleagues of a new documentary film that could help save millions of lives. THE FILM IS LAUNCHING IN NYC SEPTEMBER 17-13. Please go and see the film, and encourage others to do so. It is suitable for teenagers as well as adults. In Africa, every day, 3000 women and children die from Malaria. Drugs and bed-nets don’t work. But a cheap and effective prevention, DDT, has been BANNED by the US government. An inspiring new documentary film by Dr Rutledge, opening on September 17th in New York, reveals evidence that has… Read more »


[…] and the documentary film about the project being made by the parents of one of the students, in August 2010. At that time one of the student organizers Cecilia Graña-Rosa and her parents were visiting […]

Berkey Water Filter

I think this is a great thing they are doing with this documentary. If nothing else, it will bring awareness to many of us in a way that will bring funding to the types of programs that actually go and help provide clean water for people.