On Friday, Write On! spoke with Benson Deng, co-author and subject of the book: They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan and guest speaker at last week’s Drop in the Bucket fundraiser in Santa Monica.

Today, Write On! interviews Stacey Travis, one of the founders of Drop in the Bucket. Travis, who previously produced TV documentaries and reality programs, started a blog to bring attention to her cause. She writes about her experiences in sub-Saharan Africa where she goes to oversee well-building and sanitation projects for four months of the year in her role as the organization’s executive director.

Debra Eckerling and Benson Deng with Drop in the Bucket Founders Stacey and John Travis

What led you to start Drop in the Bucket?
I became interested in the issue of bringing clean water to villages in Africa over four years ago, when my brother went on a medical mission there. I learned from the team leader that one of the most frustrating aspects of the work was treating the same people year after year for the same illnesses because of the water they drank. Intrigued by the problem, my closest friends and I gathered around the kitchen table with our laptops and started learning as much as possible about the water crisis. We determined that installing water wells was the answer, held a backyard fundraiser that raised enough for our first two well projects and I went to Africa to oversee the installation of the projects.

Over the past few years I have slowly transitioned from directing camera crews to directing drilling crews and now spend over four months of the year in Africa.

How long have you been a writer? What is your writing background?
As a television producer, I had written for my work, but this is very different. Blogging is first person and very personal. I must admit it was a little intimidating at first. But the need to get the stories out there far outweighed any apprehensions.

Why did you start the blog? How has the blog helped your cause?
Working at the village level can be very challenging. No matter how well you plan, there are always unexpected issues. I spend so much time in the field and I really wanted to share these experiences with our supporters. I hope it helps them connect with the people and understand the situation a little more. Maybe in some way it also helps me not feel quite so alone when I’m struggling with problems. I also get excited and want to share the triumphs. We also hope that people will read about our program and see how hands-on we are in the process. Hopefully knowing that we are so careful with our donors’ money and thorough in our program will encourage more people to donate.

What is your blogging process? Do you keep a schedule? How is it easiest for you to express yourself?
I always have my notebook when I’m in the field. I am constantly writing in it, keeping up with everything that’s going on. Generally when we are traveling from village to village during the day, I make notes for the blog in there too (the roads are terrible and the notes are always pretty funny looking). Since we focus on schools, we are not in the field on the weekends. We generally travel to a different district or cross the border one day of the weekend and I type up my notes from the blog on the other one. I don’t generally blog when I’m back in the U.S. I’m usually slammed with fundraising or business, which doesn’t seem quite as interesting.

What is your favorite part of blogging about your organization and experiences in Africa? The greatest challenge?
Crazy things happen in the field… everyday. The guys who work for me experience it with me but it is their culture so they are used to it. I love sharing those stories with the folks back home. Sometimes it’s funny stuff but more often I feel I’m sharing stories about the struggle that the villagers face every day, just trying to get by. I think it’s good for us in the West to understand how lucky we are. I try to keep the blog as personal as possible. Not just my feelings about things but also putting a face with the situation on the ground. The people I meet in the field are the same as you and me. They were just born in a different set of circumstances. I think in some ways I want to share that concept… that we are more similar than we are different.

Greatest challenge…. Keeping it short! I keep getting told to make the blog entries shorter but it’s so hard. I want to share the stories and have a hard time editing myself.

Advice for bloggers?
I guess it would be to write about something you’re passionate about. I was nervous at first with the idea of laying it all out there and telling people that things were not always perfect in the field. But now I feel like it gives supporters a deeper connection to the work.

Advice for writers who are interested in sharing their views on a cause?
Do it. We are all in this world together and rely on each other. Some people do not have a platform to tell their story. I think it is our responsibility to bring attention to those situations. We are living in an interesting time where average people can do this. You don’t have to be famous or employed as a writer anymore. We have to stand up for each other and focus on what unites us rather than what separates us. I firmly believe we all have an impact on each other’s lives and it is our duty to try to make sure that our impact is as positive as possible.

Advice for writers who are interested in sharing their views on a cause?
Writing the stories of Drop in the Bucket’s work in Africa connects to my previous work producing documentaries because I am telling stories about people’s lives. We are all fascinated about the lives of others, whether it’s a famous person being profiled on a TV show or a school child living in a village in Africa. The difference is that our supporters have a vested interest in these stories, they are directly involved and participating in the lives of the people I write about. We introduce you to their situation and then give you a way to help them by providing them with clean water, life’s most basic… and most taken for granted necessity.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your blog?
I didn’t realize how vested an interest our organization’s supporters would have in the entries I was writing and how crucial they would become as a means of connecting with present and future fans of Drop in the Bucket. The blog is the most detailed means of communicating what we are doing in Africa and how we go about getting the work done. While many people enjoy reading a brief status update or tweets full of interesting statistics, there is nothing like the blog for engaging people on a deeper level. It pulls them in and makes them want to become directly involved and participate in the lives of the people I write about.

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