Spurred by lived experiences, Pomona students create water bottle company to fight water crisis

A man holding a black water bottle sits on a rock.
Anaa Jibicho PO ’23, Lamah Bility and Brian Bishop PO ’22 started a company that sells reusable water bottles. (Courtesy: Didómi)

Two Pomona College students are tackling the world’s water crisis, one bottle at a time.

Last summer, Anaa Jibicho PO ’23, Brian Bishop PO ’22 and Lamah Bility co-founded Didómi, a company that sells reusable water bottles. Double insulated and of high quality, these bottles are made by the same manufacturer as the Hydro Flask touted by many 5C students. 

But unlike many of its competitors, at Didómi’s core is giving back. Every bottle provides 10 years of water access to a person affected by the water crisis

Didómi donates 50 percent of its profits to WATERisLIFE, an organization that provides impoverished communities around the world with safe and accessible water sources. According to Jibicho, many of these communities’ water sources are contaminated because of discarded single-use plastics, making Didómi’s reusable bottles even more important.

“We think that what replaces the plastic bottles should also mitigate the effects that they have already caused,” Jibicho said. “We think that that’s restorative justice.”   

More than 1.1 billion people lack access to water, and 2.4 billion people suffer from inadequate sanitation, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Bishop said the water crisis stunts the potentials of many children because they spend most of their time collecting water. 

“Imagine if [that time] was spent with family, or at school, or pursuing their dreams,” Bishop said. “Those are the next doctors and lawyers and creative geniuses of the world. We’re missing out on their contributions.”

“It’s super surreal to be able to provide help for the students who are in the same position that I used to be in.” —Anaa Jibicho PO ’23

During their childhoods, both Jibicho and Bility experienced the effects of the water crisis firsthand, something which has motivated them to help improve the lives of people in similar situations. 

When Bility was 8 years old and lived in Liberia, he had to walk five miles each day to collect water for his family, according to Jibicho. Meanwhile, Jibicho and his family suffered from political persecution in Ethiopia, making it difficult for them to access necessities like clean water. Two of Jibicho’s siblings died from waterborne illnesses.

“It was really tough for our family,” Jibicho said. “Pieces of the puzzle of our family were gone forever. We tried protesting in the only way possible, by not drinking the water. But you can only do that for three days. We had to drink water, eventually. And then I got sick. I was in the arms of my mother, just like my other two siblings. But lucky for me, I survived.” 

To escape the growing persecution, Jibicho and his family moved to Kenya, then to the United States where Jibicho met Bility, a fellow refugee. In August 2019, Jibicho started his first semester at Pomona and befriended Bishop. By the end of the following spring semester, Bishop, Bility and Jibicho had moved to Wisconsin together to work on making Didómi a reality. 

That summer of 2020, they made a website and social media accounts, created advertising content, developed the product and partnered with WATERisLIFE. After contacting several organizations, they started collaborating with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Andaluz by Hilton Hotels and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, among others. 

A man wearing a colorful shirt sits next to a woman wearing a green shirt and orange pants. Both hold water bottles.
Every purchase of a Didómi water bottle provides 10 years of water access to a person in Africa. (Courtesy: Didómi)

From just the company’s sales this summer, Didómi was able to provide water access to 300 students in a school in Kibera — a low-income pocket of Nairobi, Kenya — giving them hand-wash stations and filter straws to purify the water they drink. 

“This school is actually not far from the school that I was going to when I was a child in Africa,” Jibicho said. “And it’s super surreal to be able to provide help for the students who are in the same position that I used to be in.”

Seeking an even bigger impact, the co-founders have continued to expand the project and its scope. They’ve continued developing their business model, partnered with more organizations and applied for funds and grants. 

The co-founders already secured $10,000 from the Davis Projects for Peace Fund and are going to Kenya this summer of 2021 to run an entrepreneur camp for students, giving them resources and encouraging them to solve the problems that they see in the world. 

Eventually, Jibicho says they plan to source their bottles and designs from the same African communities they’re trying to support.

“We want to be able to control our supply chain process to find a way to provide employment to the people that we’re actually serving,” Jibicho said. “And we have some cool design ideas in the works, where we will be working with artists from the country in which we are building a water project to design the bottle, and use our bottle as a way for them to tell their story and change the narrative on what is typically heard about Africa.”

Bishop said Didómi is also looking to partner with Pomona to provide students from the class of 2023 and 2024 with reusable water bottles in the fall semester. They’re currently accepting designs for these bottles from Pomona students through Didómi’s Instagram account. 

Whether it be by buying bottles or contributing talents and connections, Bishop encourages everyone to support Didómi’s mission in fighting the water crisis.

“We call people in the Didómi community ‘drops,’ because we believe that everybody can be the drop that makes ripples in the world,” Bishop said. “Every individual drop contributes to the wave of change to come out [of] the water crisis. No matter how you think you’re making an impact, you’re a drop in that wave.” 

“So, join the wave.”

Learn more about Didómi at its website and Instagram. Pomona students interested in submitting a bottle design can reach out to Bishop, Bility and Jibicho through Didómi’s website or Instagram account.

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