Anaa Jibicho and Lamah Bility met on a school bus when they were in elementary school and soon became best friends as two African refugees who bonded over their common trauma. Years later, the pair are on a mission to make sure African children will no longer have to go through what they endured. "When I met Lamah, I realized we had the same story," Jibicho told The Washington Post. He and Bility lived in the same St. Paul, Minnesota, neighborhood and quickly found out that both their families had suffered because of the scarcity of safe drinking water.
Jibicho lost two of his older siblings to a water-related disease when they were toddlers in Ethiopia. He himself became critically ill from contaminated drinking water when he was 2-years-old and only lived to tell the tale because his parents managed to take him to Kenya for treatment. Meanwhile, as a child, Bility walked barefoot every day for three hours to gather water from a small river. The multiple cans of water he hauled from the river every day had to then be boiled before he and his family could use it for drinking, eating or cleansing. Even when their families moved to the United States—when Jibicho was 7 and Bility was 11—the water crisis in their home countries loomed large in their minds.
Millions of Africans and countless others across the world lack access to safe drinking water, mostly because of the lack of adequate infrastructure to supply clean water. "It's critical for us to tell our stories," Jibicho, who is now 21, said. "People typically see numbers and they don't really know what that means. Those numbers are real people." In an attempt to call attention to this global crisis and help fight it, the friends launched a water bottle company called Didomi—which means "to give" in Greek—in the summer of 2020.
The social enterprise uses 50 percent of its proceeds from water bottle sales to fund projects working toward improving access to clean water in African nations. "We both have a very personal story toward this, and quite frankly it's a preventable thing," Jibicho said. "We have the tools and technology to provide people with water access." So far, they estimate they've given almost 50,000 people access to safe drinking water for a decade. Didomi donates half of its proceeds directly to Water Is Life, an international nonprofit organization that provides clean drinking water to people around the world by making clean water readily available through efforts such as building wells and implementing filtration systems in schools and communities.
"It's been amazing to work with these two guys because they know firsthand what's going on around the world, and they're bringing it full circle," said Ken Surritte, founder of WaterIsLife. "It's pretty inspiring." Although Surritte didn't grow up in Africa like Jibicho and Bility, he has spent time there and vividly remembers seeing thirsty children lined up along the side of the road in northern Kenya, begging for water. "There's 6,000 people that are going to die today because they don't have access to safe drinking water," Surritte said. "That's the case every day, 365 days a year." Although the situation is grim, "it's something we can fix," he added.
Didomi is currently on track to broaden its reach and a partnership with George Washington University is a significant step forward. The school, which announced its goal to eliminate single-use plastics from campus in February last year, is set to distribute reusable Didomi around campus in the coming months. The partnership "represents both GW and Didomi's commitment to reduce plastic waste and promote access to freshwater," said Crystal L. Nosal, a university spokeswoman. According to Jibicho and Bility, this partnership will provide nearly 30,000 people with clean water for 10 years. "We were just in disbelief," when the university agreed to distribute Didomi water bottles, said Jibicho.
"Being refugees, we didn't have a lot of people in our lives that had started businesses," added Bility, who is now 24. "We wanted to build a community." The pair explained that their painful early years as children motivated them to spare others from the same struggle. "As two young refugees from Africa coming to America, the only thing we had was hope," Bility said. "And that’s what we want to give to the world."