The story behind our ad: First Cup

4 min read
Still from the ad showing Lucia looking at a cup of water

Dennis Lupenga is part of WaterAid’s Voices from the Field team and acted as Cultural Director for our new ad, which unveils the magic behind the moment that clean water arrives in a community.

‘First Cup’ is also a story about a bond between a grandmother and her granddaughter. The film was created with, and inspired by the experiences and insight of, people from Zomba in southern Malawi.

Here's how we did it.

Getting started

The first step in the process of making the ad was a trip with colleagues from our creative agency, Don’t Panic, to spend time with the community.

We'd had an idea of telling the story of the first cup of clean water. And it was on this visit, as we spoke to community members, that it really came alive, especially when we heard how small moments – such as a first cup of water – can represent huge changes for individuals, families, and entire communities.

For every individual, family and community, having clean water is the first indication of development.

Our children are spending more time in school. This will ensure that their future is going to be bright and way better than the older generation. In return, this will bring development to our families and community at large.
Teleza, who plays the Chief in the film

Workshopping the ad

After developing our ideas based on what we'd heard on our visit, I returned to Zomba for a series of workshops. An important aspect of these workshops was to ensure that the ad was culturally correct and that community members had a voice in shaping how their story was going to be told.

We talked about everything, from the casting and narrative to the dialogue itself. These workshops added a richness to the ad that could not have been achieved any other way.

Taking notes as the community talk through ideas
Taking notes as the community discuss ideas.
Discussing ideas for the ad with the people of Zomba
Discussing early thoughts for the ad with the people of Zomba.

Shooting ethically

After a series of interviews and casting sessions, we began shooting with the community members chosen to be our brilliant new actors – as well as many, many incredible local people who played a part in the production and logistics.

We made sure that the whole process was in line with our safeguarding policies, for example by ensuring interviews with children were conducted with a guardian present. We were also careful not to disturb school sessions, by only filming scenes with children in the afternoon when class sessions were over. The majority of filming took place over a local holiday weekend, to minimise any disruption.

Shooting with Lucia and "Grandma"
Shooting with Lucia and "Grandma".
Dennis filming a casting session
Filming during casting sessions.

Sharing the results

Going back to the community after the film was produced to share the end result with them was an amazing experience. Most of the community members couldn’t get enough of it – they wanted to see more!

Teleza, Lucia and Esnart
The ad's three stars: Teleza, who plays the Chief; Lucia, the granddaughter; and Esnart, the grandmother.

It was such an amazing experience to witness how happy they were seeing the final advert.

After watching the film, it made me happy, especially when I stole that cup when the chief and the people were busy celebrating. I did run very fast after that. I was never caught. That made me happy.
Lucia, 10

Changing the future

I’m excited to have been part of this new approach that gives power to marginalised communities so that they can take centre stage in shaping and telling their own stories, with WaterAid providing respectful technical support. Personally, working directly with the community was a privilege. The whole shoot was an amazing experience – and the participation of local people made the film what it is.

Having access to clean water has had a huge impact on this community, but 1 in 3 people in Malawi are still living without this essential resource. More than a thousand people lost their lives in the country's worst ever cholera outbreak this year. Countless girls of a similar age to Lucia still walk miles for water, often missing school to do so.

This has to change.

This is why we're here as WaterAid: to work with communities to tell their stories and to bring clean water to them and future generations. First Cup reflects how having clean water can be a turning point, and a new page in their lives.

WaterAid worked with the community to bring clean water in 2019 as part of our Deliver Life project, which aims to increase access to water, sanitation and hygiene for women, girls and children in health centres, early childhood development centres and surrounding communities in the Zomba and Machinga Districts of Malawi. The project in Zomba was made possible thanks to funding from the Scottish Government’s International Development Fund, Scottish Water and Northern Ireland Water employee fundraising.