The Girl Who Built a Rocket

5 min read

At WaterAid, we are always looking for new ways to share stories which communicate a very real need for action. We have embarked on a  journey to adapt our advertising, and this is a step towards that.

Taking inspiration from real stories, we worked with creative agency Don’t Panic and colleagues in Madagascar to create our animated film, The Girl Who Built A Rocket, with a voice-over by Sir Trevor McDonald.

But nobody’s thirsty on Mars

This February, three missions are going into Mars orbit with two landers reaching the surface of Mars in the second half of the month. Those missions aim to look for water on the planet.

Exploration and discovery are part of the human spirit. These incredible ventures will lead us to answers and no doubt be of great value for the human race.

While these ventures look for water on Mars, our mission is to reach everyone, everywhere with water here on Earth.

A staggering 785 million people – that’s 1 in 10 who still don’t have access to clean water.

Our mission is here

Our film tells the story of Fara, a young girl from Madagascar who upon hearing on the radio that water has been found on Mars, sets about building a rocket to take her there and to bring back water for her village.

Fara always dreamed of becoming an astronaut.

Fara's dreams of becoming an astronaut and flying to Mars seem to be coming true as she takes off in her homemade rocket.

When the attempt inevitably fails, she discovers that work is already underway to get clean water in her village. As work on the new water point is almost finished, she and her father turn the final bolt to start the water flowing, as the rest of the community, with the support of WaterAid finish working on the pipework.

Although Fara and her community are fictional characters, they and their surroundings are very much inspired by real people.

Authenticity and working with Ernest Randriarimalala

All of the elements of the animation, including the people, animals, landscapes and homes, are inspired by communities in Madagascar, with Ernest Randriarimalala, our Voices From the Field Officer in Madagascar, advising us on the finest of details.

He consulted us about the characters’ names, hairstyles and Madagascan landscape.

Ernest Randriarimalala, WaterAid Communications Support Officer, Voices from the Field, stands at a clean water tap, Alakamisy, Soavina, Madagascar, 2012.

WaterAid/ Anna Kari

Ernest Randriarimalala, our Voices from the Field Officer at a clean water tap in the Soavina region, Madagascar.

Illustrations of Fara with different facial expressions

WaterAid/ Don't Panic

Ernest consulted us on details such as names and hairstyles to help develop the characters including Fara.

Ernest, who is Malagasy born and raised, is passionate about his work at WaterAid. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, his role required a lot of time getting to know the communities we work with, revisiting them and witnessing the way people’s health and wellbeing flourishes with clean water, improved sanitation and hygiene.

In developing the characters for the film, the creative team took inspiration from stories Ernest collected from communities, such as siblings Faly, Kanto and Toky – joyful children who no longer have to fetch water far from their homes, and have better sanitation and hygiene, who can now concentrate on school and play.

"We no longer fetch water far away from home anymore." (LR) Faly, 9, with his sister and brother who are twins,  Kanto and Toky, 6, at their fountain in Analamanga region, Madagascar, July 2018.

WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Siblings Faly, Kanto and Toky no longer have to fetch water from far away.

The film also includes other details such as Baobab trees, typical of the districts in Madagascar where we work, and zebus – an important animal used in Malagasy agriculture

Illustration of characters and details in the film

WaterAid/ Don't Panic

Ernest helped us to develop the characters' details. The animation even included a zebu, an important animal in Malagasy culture.

Photograph of a zebu cart in Madagascar

WaterAid/ Ernest RandriarimalalaA zebu cart - an integral part of Malagasy agriculture.

Illustration of Madagascan, red, mountainous landscape

WaterAid/ Don't PanicThe rich, red colour of its soil gives Madagascar its name: The Great Red Island.

Landscape view, Bongolava, Madagascar, September 2017.

WaterAid/ Sam JamesIts spectacular landscapes draw parallels with the great red planet, Mars.

We also did our research to ensure that Mars is visible from Madagascar with the naked eye at this time of year.

Boys from Beanamamy village playing soccer, the soccerball is made out of plastic bags and rope. Bevato  commune, Tsiroanomandidy district, Bongolava region, Madagascar, October 2018.

WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Children in the Bongolava region of Madagascar play football on the naturally rich, red Earth.

This is personal

Our film ends with the message “This is personal.”

Globally, we are investing great amounts to find water on Mars. While this is a wonderful realisation of the human spirit of discovery, there are people who need water here on Earth – and the global investment into solving this problem is simply not enough.

We all need water to survive.

From simple everyday activities like having a drink of clean water, showering and going to the toilet, to fundamental necessities, like bathing newborn babies and having a safe and clean period.

It gives us the chance to be ourselves, be healthy, feel confident and thrive. This is essential for every individual on Earth.

Yet so many millions of people still have to endure long and dangerous journeys to collect dirty water.

Clean water is transformative for children like Tantely, 8, and her grandfather Albert.

Albert Rakotoson, 67, and his granddaughter Tantely, 8, smiling as they collect water from a water point in Tsarafangitra village, Belavabary commune, Madagascar, August 2019.

WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Albert and his granddaughter Tantely collect water from their water point.

Illustration of Fara with her Father and Brother at the new water point

WaterAid/ Don't PanicThis illustration of Fara and her family collecting water is inspired by many real stories across our work.

Tantely used to walk miles to collect heavy buckets of dirty water, making her late for school, if she were even able to attend at all.

Since we worked with her community to bring clean water to her village, she wakes up, grabs her books and heads off to school, now often arriving before her teacher.  

Clean water is already making Tantely’s life so different to her grandfather Albert’s. He never thought he’d see the day clean water would come to their village.

Tantely and her grandfather, just like the fictional Fara and her father, just like any of us, shouldn’t need to worry about such basic essentials that so many of us take for granted.

We hope that our film, The Girl Who Built a Rocket, the resilience of the characters, the ambitions of Fara and our mission to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water resonates with many of you on a personal level.

Check out our immersive storytelling experience of The Girl Who Built a Rocket