By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BIG SKY – Julia Yarbough first came to Montana from Miami in 2010 as part of a 10-month road trip with her best friend. Both single journalists, the women hit the road for their blog, “Highway to a Husband.”
After more than 18,000 miles and 22 states, Yarbough, a two-time Emmy award winning journalist and freelance producer, was still single, her blog had attracted national and international media attention, and she’d found the HabiHut.
After reading an article about the Bozeman-based social entrepreneurs working to bring affordable shelter and clean water to third world countries, she kept HabiHut in the back of her mind.
“It just caught my eye, sparked something,” she recalled.
The next fall, back at home in south Florida, she sent a cold email to HabiHut owner Buz Weas, introducing herself.
She told him she loved telling environmental and human-interest stories, and if they ever needed any help anything with she’d be honored to jump on board.
Weas called her 15 minutes later.
“I remember thinking, ‘oh, my gosh this is meant to be,’” Yarbough said.
In March of 2012 she made plans to head to Kenya with the HabiHut and The Outlaw Partners, of Big Sky, to help produce a video presentation on the project and its new partnership with General Electric. The video would feature the company’s work in the Gatina slum outside of Nairobi, putting up a HabiHut structure that would supply clean water and cell phone charging services to the population, while offering local women a chance to become entrepreneurs, themselves.
There, Yarbough met a woman who had typhoid four times. “Here in the states access to clean, safe water is a given,” Yarbough said. But there, “water borne disease is so common.”
Having a product that allows the people to know they can purchase water that’s clean and safe can change their lives in so many ways, she said. For example, it allows children to stay in school, because they’re not sick from the water all the time.
After a week filming, Yarbough came to Montana a second time in mid-June of 2012—this time to Big Sky, to cut a short film. In Big Sky, she worked with Outlaw Partners videographer Brian Niles, on a project meant to generate investment for HabiHut’s projects.
As the two worked on the edits, Yarbough reflected on the experience. The severity of the poverty was the most striking thing they saw in Nairobi, she said.
“We live in a world with such wealth, it’s hard to conceive that you have so many people living in conditions that are beyond cesspool—no electricity, no running water, makeshift housing… Even more so, the slum is right next door to one of the wealthiest communities in the area. It’s separated by a brick wall and barbed wire fence, but it’s right next door. It’s not that the ability isn’t there to somehow change that.”
But even so, Yarbough said, the people she met in the slum were open, kind and friendly. “They’re extremely poor, but educated and very talented. There was this hunger of wanting to do something, to have a better life, to somehow contribute.”
The final video segment Yarbough and Niles produce will be presented at a UN meeting in late June, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“We’re hoping to have an international audience of global movers and shakers,” Yarbough said.
For Niles, it was an honor to work with someone of Yarbough’s caliber. “We come from different backgrounds,” he said. “She’s more on the journalistic side, which was nice to have for this project. I’m more on the creative side. Mixing the two, it’s going to tell the story well.”
Plus, Niles says, this will put Outlaw on the map a little more. “It shows that we can step it up and pull something pretty huge off in a place where there’s hardly anything.”
Yarbough hopes to continue working with HabiHut as it moves forward into other countries, and said she enjoyed working with Outlaw, as well.
“I spent so many years working in a big environment,” she said. “It’s nice that everybody [at Outlaw] has that team work spirit. The work and the reach seem to be really broad.”
As for “Highway to a Husband”—there’s no husband and no ring, Yarbough said, but the and her blog partner are in negotiations for a possible reality show based on the concept.
HabiHut and General Electric
General Electric’s Water for Humanity program aims to bring clean water to 10 million people in the next five years. One of the efforts to do that is through the GE-HabiHut solar water kiosk.
“They’re hoping they can do it in a way that’s economically sustainable,” said HabiHut president Buz Weas.
The water kiosk HabiHut just installed in Nairobi, Kenya, fits the bill because local women are operating it, making a profit by selling water and cell phone services. Part of the money they make will be re-invested into more water kiosks, Weas explained.
For HabiHut, a small, Bozeman-based company, the GE brand provides a significant boost in creditability, Weas said. Plus, he said, GE has technical capabilities to help HabiHut’s effort, naming the ZeeWeed water filtration system and the thin film solar used to charge cell phones.
For more information, contact the Julia Yarbough Media Group firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the HabiHut website at thehabihut.com.