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WE ARE W.A.T.A. - Read the Story

NAVIGATION: INTRO | 2014 | 2015 | 2016-2022 | 2023 | THE TEAM | 2024 | THE FUTURE


"Agua". Yes, the story of W.A.T.A. really begins 32 years ago with my first word, “Aqua”. It took around 22 years for me to really understand the significance that word would play in my life. Before I can go into the story of what W.A.T.A. is today and what I hope it can be be in the future, I need to go back to my junior year of college, where I was studying Civil/Environmental Engineering at USC....



Like many spring breakers, I decided that tropical island would be my destination. My brother and I traveled to Jamaica in the the spring of 2014, with the hopes of swimming in warm water and drinking tropical drinks. One of our adventures led us up the winding mountain roads to the home of the legendary Bob Marley. The bus, packed with various tourists, honked its way up the mountain, swerving from side to side as on coming cars and trucks made their journey down the road. While on this excursion, I noticed, buried amongst the lush rainforest around us, that there were hillsides completely covered in cement. Some of the hillsides even had a fence securing the area.

Hillside with Rainwater Catchment in Jamaica

As we got to our final destination, I took in all the town had to offer and while looking over the hillsides once again, I noticed even more concrete covered hills. I asked one of the guides what those were and he explained that they captured rainwater this way and it would all funnel into a basin at the bottom where they would get water from. Another deep breath, and I started to get consumed with that idea. Rain would fall, collect on this side of the hill and sit in this basin, along with whatever else found itself sliding down that concrete hillside. Back in school, I had just taken a class about water quality where we learned about rainwater catchment and water treatment. I was fixated. 

Once I returned from the trip, I had take a writing class that summer, with a number of other engineering students. One of the subjects was to write about anything we wanted. Vague, I know.  So I wrote about the water crisis in Jamaica. This took me down hours and hours of searches regarding how the polluted rivers have corroded the limestone barriers by the sea causing salt water intrusion into the water wells in the cities. I dove deeper until I was convinced I could solve it. Formulas from my classes surrounded my head as I dove deeper and deeper into various socioeconomic issues in Jamaica and how much clean drinking water could positively impact everyone. 

During one of the peer review days, a classmate that was reviewing my paper told me that she had a friend who was doing something with clean water and that I should connect with him. 

Her friend (Kevin) had started a project when his was in high school that set up Water Filters in schools and hospitals in India

and had sent filters to other areas around the world. THIS WAS IT.

I knew this was what I wanted to be a part of and help with. He explained to me that he was having a hard time getting this

Kevin (left) & Me (right) with a Box of Filters to send to Nepal

project started in college and I told him that I would help start this because this is an idea that I really believed in as well. And so Club H2O was born. (a name that was just supposed to be temporary). We filled all the paperwork we needed and established ourselves as an official club, where we had meetings and threw events to raise money.

The idea was quite simple, we found people who were traveling in areas in need and we raised funds and filters so that we could equip them with the tools and knowledge to use and setup the water filters effectively. The filters we used were manufactured by a company called Sawyer, and were primarily used for camping and backpacking, but were also the perfect filter for our purpose! We partnered with organizations and provided disaster relief during various earthquakes and tsunamis. We also were able to help educate our community by giving presentations around school and giving demonstrations about the impact that this system could do for people. We kept finding people and kept providing filters.

Through Club H2O we were able to send hundreds of sawyer filters all over the world and were able to connect with a variety of people from different areas and organizations. However, for me, I was still craving to experience something like Kevin had experienced in India, and physically set up a filter in a area that needed one.

I've been told The Universe works in mysterious way...


Arthur and Me at his restaurant

My senior year I was meeting with a non profit, The Han-Schneider International Children’s Foundation (HSICF), that was going to Tanzania to setup a school in the city Arusha. Arthur, The HSICF Director, met with me at his restaurant, and after talking to him about the club's mission and goals and the things I wanted to accomplish, he invited me to come along his trip to Tanzania, which was only one month later. I instantly said yes, got in the car and called my mom (heck yeah I did).

A few weeks later, and hours after an engineering midterm, I was in a small African airport, thousands of miles away, waiting for a Land Rover to come pick me up. It was the middle of the night, and I was greeted by a tall smiley man who grabbed my hand with both of his and shook, while his smile just got larger. His name was Elisante. Sitting in the Land Rover my roommate during the trip, Tony. After a number of greetings, we sat in the car and Elisante informed us

that it was an hour or so drive back to the school. We left the airport and drove through a town filled with buildings made of various materials, sometimes with barbed wired fences. Suddenly the buildings stopped appearing and we entered the darkness. The stars that scattered the sky, and the moon provided the necessary light since both of the Land Rover’s headlamps weren’t totally working. A few dozen impressive off-road maneuvers later, we made it

to a gate, where Arthur stood, guiding us into the school courtyard. I set up my sleep bag and mosquito net on the floor, created a barricade from animals using my bags and closed my eyes. 

That trip changed my life, and set me down a path that would bring the creation of W.A.T.A. I met an incredible group of people, all strangers to me at first, and was able to make a change for this small village in Arusha, Tanzania. The filters that I was going to give the non-profit to bring, I had instead brought with me to setup at the school and a village nearby. Being able to train the teachers how to setup and properly use the filter was so impactful to me. Then the next day, we walked a couple km to a village nearby and setup another filter for a family there as well. The impact, for me, was monumental and I just wanted to do this again, and again.

One of the most memorable moments for me on the trip was when Zach, the other HSICF Director, and I went on a mission to find a "Dirty Lake". There was apparently one a few miles away, so equipped with a backpack of jolly ranchers to bribe the children who guided on us to the lake, we headed out into the unknown. Once we got to this lake, I realized why they called it "Dirty Lake".

At the lake, we saw a boy washing his cow. He looked at Zach and me with confusion and as we headed down towards the water and took out our water bottles, that look of confusion quickly turned to concern. He came over to us, waving his hands telling us to stop. I smiled at Zach, at started filling up my bottle with the brown water. Suddenly a group of kids emerged, all watching what we were doing. I filled the bottle, screwed on the filter. I squeezed the bottle and crystal clear water poured out! Now it was time to prove it!

Brown water turned clear and safe to drink. My own mind was blown by this whole trip, but I knew this was what I wanted to spend my time doing.

It as also during this time that I was becoming more aware of other organizations that shared a similar goal. The more people that do this, the more we can make an impact. These organizations (WavesForWater, GiveCleanWater, FilterforHope, and more), just fueled my desire to want to make a change, and showed me to that it was possible. I started thinking about different ways to do it, how I could improve it, expand it, maybe make my own filter one day. I had found my purpose.


Later that year I graduated and entered the "real world".  Club H2O ended for me, my vacation days became limited or unpaid, and so my dreams of changing the world slowly took a back seat. My impact only became bringing a couple of filters on the yearly trips I took with my brother, friends, or HSICF. Through these travel experiences, I was able to set up filters in Mexico (2018), Bolivia (2018), Bali (2019), and even Cuba (2022).

With each trip the desire and ambition to do more increased. I could really see how this was a problem that we could solve and something that I was really good at doing. I felt my best being in a place where I was forced to use human connection and emotion to communicate vs english words. My calling became even more clear and creating an organization to do this work was now my goal. An organization that helps provide people around the world clean drinking water. But How?

Well, As a billboard somewhere once said "Just Do It"


In 2023, I went on a trip that would be the catalyst that made me realize that this was something really attainable! Arthur, from HSICF, reached out to me about a trip to Vietnam he was planning. I instantly said yes, I really didn't have to think about it, and months later we were meeting up at LAX, checking in our bags to fly to our next adventure together. This trip was different however, because unlike the trips in the past that consisted up a number of volunteers, sometimes people I've traveled with before, this trip was just Arthur, his family (wife and 2 kids), the trip photographer/videographer, and myself.

The trip was primarily focused on opening a new school for the kids in an located in the Central Highlands as well as donate food, school supplies, and other every day items. On one of the days, we setup a filter demonstration and training and then went into the jungles to filter some of the water sources they knew up there. In total we donated 10 filters, and one of the first things they said to us was when we could bring back more...

This trip just proved to me even more that this was the mission. Also, being able to work with Arthur more closely, gave me the confidence that I could actually do this and setup and run a non-profit.

So Vietnam, along with some support from the Universe, set my path forward. With the support and motivation from the people around me, I knew that I could make a change and make this project my full time focus. I also happened to be building my surf film photography brand, @SALTYVIEWFINDER, and figured that I could use that platform to bring awareness to the mission, share my experiences (through film photography), and also help fund Filters and trips. I'd call it "Film4Water" and sell my photos to raise money to fund filters and go on trips. Or so I thought...

Things really made drastic progression when an instagram post shared to the world that I was starting a non-profit called “Film4Water”. At the time I had told two of my friends about my passion and my idea to use film photography to fund water projects. They were doing a collaboration sale for their individual brands, which I was shooting video for, and when they shared the project on IG, they announced that a percentage of the sales were going towards my water project. “My Water Project”, it sounded unreal, and I wasn't really ready, but it was out there now and so It was time for me to make my dream a reality and build the team that was going to make this all possible!


At this same time, I had been working with a couple of my friends on some surf edits, when I brought this project to their attention. 

Both of them instantly felt the call and told me that they’d join me in starting this project and non-profit. I never expected that this commitment would lead to the amount of dedication this team has put to make this project into a reality.

Now that the team is more than just me and includes now another photographer/videographer (Nate) and surfer/board builder (Izaiah) the name film4water just didn’t seem applicable. 

In one of many, sometimes twice a day, meetings, the name W.A.T.A. was born, which stands for Water Access to All, the mission of what WE are creating. Going from I to WE really added another dimension to this entire project.


Here are some words from the other members of the W.A.T.A. Team:

WORDS BY IZAIAH MARTINEZ (Director of Operations):

"My name is Izaiah I’m from Southern California and I work in the surfboard industry. The reason I’m here helping W.A.TA. is because I I think it can truly make a difference. When I met Cyrus two and a half years ago he was always so passionate about this project, having it been something he’d been working on since years before I met him. Now to see those years of his hard work coming to fruition it only reinforces that this is something bigger than us that can be done. The big message from W.A.T.A that resonates with me the most is that anybody can make the difference, it doesn’t need to be somebody who has a big financial backing or mystic kind of celebrity. Helping make the world a more accessible place shouldn’t be treated as a thing that an average person wouldn’t be able to accomplish. It does take some work, a lot actually, but anybody and everybody has the chance to do something. Helping people around me , giving back to a community that has given so much to me, and putting more responsibility upon my shoulders has probably been the most empowering thing I’ve done. To be able to do that on a bigger scale is incredible. It has shown me the strength that is within myself and the true power the average individual has, it’s a lot more than we think."



Having dedication to a cause is one thing, but having a dedicated team around you to make this dream a reality is something priceless. W.A.T.A. wouldn’t exist without this team, and although we each have full-time jobs, we are really working hard to bring a project that can make huge impact around the world. We all plan to make this project more of a priority in our loves and we are excited to bring you along this journey with us. We have many community centric events planned and fun ways for people to not only learn about the water crisis, but help be part of the solution with us!


W.A.T.A. is just one project of the SaltyViewfinder Foundation, which is the (future 501c3) non-profit organization umbrella to all of this. My goal is to expand from just providing clean water but to provide real impactful change to people and communities around the world. While the Foundation is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3), we have partnered with the Han-Schneider International Children’s foundation, the group I went on my first water filter trip with, so that we can give all our benefactors the benefits of the 501(c)(3) tax deductions. 

We are grateful for all of the support that we have had so far and are looking forward to all the future partners, sponsors, and peoples we will meet.


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Support can come in different shapes and sizes and all of it is impactful! Here are some different ways you can support not only the organization, but people around the world!

Direct Donations

You can donate directly to the organization. This will fund future trips and filter purchases. Any donation is greatly appreciated and will go a long way.

We Partnered with the Han-Schneider International Children's Foundation so that your donation can be a tax deduction!


One of the biggest way you help get involved is my sponsoring W.A.T.A. or becoming a sponsor for an event that we are throwing! Learn more about what it looks like to be a sponsor, and what benefits it gets you!


You can support W.A.T.A. by purchasing prints and merch that will fund filters and trips so that we can continue to work on our mission. All merch is designed by us! Photographer Prints coming soon! #Prints4Water

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