a biosand filter for christmas

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That’s right. All it costs is $85. In terms of i-pods, it is a 3 for 1 deal: 3 biosand filters for families for the cost of 1 i-pod classic 160 gb. A few days from now is the famous ‘Black Friday’ in America when there are super sales and people get up at unbelievable hours to get that perfect deal. All for something that is, likely, disposable. A biosand filter is not disposable and will transform the life of a family by providing them clean water for 10-20 years. Consider ‘buying’ one as an alternative Christmas gift this year at: www.bloodwatermission.com/christmas.

a sign for flu season

flu season

A while back I made a smart ass sign to try and get people to load their dishes into the dishwasher at work. A few days ago a lawyer with whom we share the building asked for one of similar tone about washing of hands given that it is flu season. I hope this makes him happy.

dishwashers

This is the sign now hanging above the sink at work as a reminder that there is, in fact, not a fairy who moves dirty dishes from the sink to the dishwasher. Who would have guessed? LH and I rather proud of it.

dishwasher

road work

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To me, summer months mean that my weekends will begin to fill up with camping trips, picnics, and any other outing that will place me in nature surrounded by friends. Sadly, this equates to a lot of time on the road, and I will likely spend time waiting impatiently to pass sections of ongoing road work as construction crews fix roads damaged by winter frosts, summer rains, vehicles carrying heavy loads, and excessive traffic. Although I am impatient, I should not be as I have roads to travel. 

Most of the communities where Blood:Water Mission supports work are not blessed by good roads and construction crews are rare. The roads are rough, some are not passable in the rainy season, and others do not have bridges to cross streams. In Ethiopia, there was no road, and the community used hand tools to build an additional 1.5 kilometers of road in order to transport a drill rig. 

The day I went to visit the well that had been drilled, our car came to a place in the road that had been washed out the day before by heavy rains. The road was not marked with construction cones or signs, and there was no pile-up of vehicles waiting to pass. There was just us, and in front of us the community was already working to repair the road in the same way that they had built it – with their farm tools and their sweat. As we abandoned the vehicle to walk to the well, I realized that I was walking on a road literally built so that people could drink safe water. And they did so joyfully. 

This summer when I pass construction crews on the road I will be reminded of these people who built their own road so that they could have water, and maybe, just maybe, I will not grow impatient as I wait.


~written for Blood:Water Mission’s June Newsletter

fantastic doodles

One of the great things about my current job is I am surrounded by people who have completely different backgrounds and skill sets than I do. While walking by the desk of our creative genius (aka graphic designer), he was doodling on one side of his massive screen. I loved the doodle, and a copy of it is now sitting on my desk. Eventually you will get to see his work on Blood:Water’s site, but until then, go here. Hope this makes you smile. 

it’s just not simple

In Southern Rwanda, I visited the villages of Kanyonyera and Rubugu where I saw water lines and water taps recently constructed by a local partner organization. The cement platforms and structures were well constructed, and the piping and hardware well chosen and installed. A seemingly ideal image of water provision in a rural region.
In Kanyonyera, a woman by the name of Pellina told us of the value of this water tap. She said that they used to get water at the lake, which was dirty and was a long way to walk. This problem was compounded by children collecting water who could only stand on the edge of the lake, where the water was the dirtiest. To top it off, every year children would die from drowning in the lake. Pellina was happy about the clean, flowing water at the tap. 

A little while later I noticed Pellina, deep in conversation, did not seem happy. I found out that the mud bricks near the water tap were hers. She planned to build a house, but the land she was going to use was taken to build the water tap. Now she had clean, flowing water, but no place to build her house. In such circumstances, the Rwandan government works to compensate the individual and provide alternate land. But, that was still in the process of happening, and today Pellina was stuck in the middle of the complexities of development. She had mud bricks to use, she had access to clean water, and she had no place build her home.

Clean water provision is so simple on paper. People need water, and water is provided. People walk long distances carrying large quantities of water by hand or by head, and now they walk short distances. People had little water to spare for laundry and hand washing, and now more is available. It would seem that the simple provision of clean water would solve so many problems. And yet we were told of a another village where a team (not funded by Blood:Water) came in and drilled a well. Fantastic…except the people never used the well. I don’t know if the water did not taste good, did not smell good, was in a politically poor location in the village, or if there was some other cultural issue. Bottom line is that a well was drilled but was not used; a ‘simple’ solution did not work. 

hope through soccer

Sometimes I struggle when I know I should write about one thing and I feel uninspired. It is these times that I wish a writer would modify my words filling them with eloquence that would better express what is in my head and my heart. It is not that I am uninspired by what I should write about–quite the contrary. What I do not know is how to take such a fantastic and inspiring series of events and present them in an image that will portray a piece of what I experienced.

On Saturday the final game of a 13 team, 52 game, soccer tournament was held in the midst of a grand ceremony. This tournament was a dream of our partner in Northern Uganda who saw young men being idle in their villages unsure of how to fill their time and lacking hope after 10 years in IDP camps (internally displaced people camps). Yes, stability is returning to the region, safety is the norm rather than the sacred, and villages are being rebuilt. But the rebuilding of a village is easier on paper than in reality, and hope is a magical tool. And so our partner dreamt up and created a soccer tournament where they fund uniforms and soccer balls, and there are prizes of bulls and goats to eat, and a beautiful trophy for the winner to display. Participation requires the building of latrines and hand washing locations, and soccer scores include community transformation in terms of WASH (water, hygiene, and sanitation) and half-times are filled with song and dance about WASH created and performed by the players. I could never come up with a plan so brilliant–not in my most wild imagination.

The day of ceremonies included a parade of the players through town, demonstrations of latrines, washing stations, and hand pumps. Officials present included not only local and regional officials, but also the Minster of Water and Environment of Uganda; she was impressed by what she saw. The final soccer game was exciting and demonstrated the impressive skills of the players. The song and dance were both beautiful and inspiring.

As we visited communities in the two days following the ceremony, we saw transformation beginning in communities. We saw biosand filters and hand pumps and hand washing stations and dish racks. We saw hope and we saw soccer players filled with ownership of their program. One year. This program has only been running for one year and already the impact is tangible. In the coming years the program will grow–the hope is 60 teams within three years.

I wish I could capture these events for you. Smiling women. Laughing children. Welcoming men. Stories of triumph and a sense of pride. Over it all, hope. I am at a loss of how to share this, of how to construct this image, and so I close simply wishing that I could have transported you to a soccer field in Northern Uganda for a day of celebration.

apoyo matek

Thank you. Apoyo matek. Thank you for coming to Uganda, and in particular, to Lira. Thank you for visiting. Thank you for breakfast. Thank you for lunch. Thank you for dinner. Thank you for water. I thank our God that we have been able to meet. Apoyo matek. Thank you for joining our celebration. Thank you for inviting us. Thank you for welcoming us. Thank you.

Those are the words that fill my ears and exit my mouth all day long. I am now in Uganda which, like much of Africa, is a thanking culture. Little can be assumed about any event–the starting time, how long it will last, what will occur, or what will be expected of me–except that I will say ‘Thank you’ and be told ‘Thank you.’ Sometimes it gets old and I begin to think that it would be great to hop skip and jump over the many thank you’s, effectively thinking, “Let’s move on and not spend more time on this.” And then I remember what it is like in America where we say “Hey” and “What’s up?” with more frequency than “Thank you” and suddenly my patience increases. Apoyo matek.

iron mike

day to day
lost in the mundane,
which is really the wild.
sometimes it takes unusual inspiration
to shake me out of the day to day.
inspiration from another’s sacrifice,
inspiration from america:
iron mike.

I hurriedly wrote the above after a staff meeting earlier this week. Mike is an average 55 year old man from Elizabethtown. He became ‘Iron Mike’ when he biked from coast to coast to raise funds for Blood:Water Mission. He found something worth fighting for, bought a bike a couple weeks before the ride began, joined the team, and rode his bike for the better part of 9 weeks telling people at gas stations, parks, churches and concerts about the men, women, and children who needed clean water in Africa. Iron Mike and his team raised a fairly impressive sum of money and impacted thousands. Beyond that, they were and continue to be inspiring. Iron Mike stopped in our office earlier this week and he encouraged our staff to continue our work and to work towards excellence.

I love what I do, and I love Africa. America is comfortable, but I let my guard down in Africa. The stories of hurt and happiness, of pain and perseverance, and of trials and triumphs of Africans are my day to day. In America it is in the pictures, proposals, and reports that I read daily, and in Africa it is all around me. It is wild and lovely, but is my day to day. In America I am surrounded by shiny windows, smooth roads, fast food, and blinking lights; consumerism. It is a constant sensory overload and yet it is uninspiring. And that is why I found Iron Mike so refreshing and incredibly inspiring. I am grateful to be in a place where I have the privilege to regularly be inspired and blessed by the Iron Mike’s of America.

gladys

There is a wonderful magic about children. They have the ability to capture the heart and the soul with nothing more than a smile and a twinkle in the eye, and tonight Gladys captured my heart.

We visited a girls’ home run by one of our partners. Here the children are well clothed, have wonderful facilities, and are surrounded by people who love them. Each child comes out of a difficult situation ranging from abandonment to living on the street to abuse to lacking parents. By being family with one another, they are rising out of these difficult, seemingly hopeless situations, to live full lives. They learn the enduring power of love and hope.

Tonight as these girls sang and danced for us, little Gladys, only two and a half years old, was held in the loving arms of her new sisters and mothers. Later, as she sat next to an older girl, she stretched her small hand out to greet me. Suddenly shy, she backed away to play pick-a-boo around the edge of the table, a game that stands outside of language or culture. Then I gathered this delightful child in my arms. Over the next minutes we shared smiles and gestures and she proceeded to capture my heart.

Before leaving I sat down to sign the guest book, Gladys still in my arms. An active child engaged in the world around her, she wanted to participate in the writing. So after I signed their guest book, young Gladys signed my field notebook. Now I have two pages of scribbles that are Gladys’s two year old signature sandwiched between pages of notes from endless days of meetings. These two pages, a reminder of a child who captured my heart in a moment, might be the most precious thing that notebook holds.

on travel and biosand filters

In case you were wondering, I have not forgotten you. It is simply that travel has been a bit consuming as of late. As I travel with Blood:Water job, I will post on occasion on our Blood:Water blog. My best guess is that you don’t read their site, so I figure the least I can do is post those entries here as well. This was written while I was in Zambia:

Today I returned from village tired from my time in the sun, from laughing with the children, and from sharing knowing looks with the women. The afternoon was spent installing 15 biosand filters in village, not long ago an informal settlement outside of Ndola, Zambia. Like so many technologies, the construction of a biosand filter is relatively simple: a concrete exterior created in a metal mold, a small pipe to carry water, layers of washed gravel and sand covered by a metal plate, all sealed by a wood cover. This simple technology has the potential to work for 15-20 years, is inexpensive to produce, and can reduce waterborne disease by 97%. But the expertise to create the filters and the money for the materials and labor is not enough. No where near enough. It takes education and the building of strong relationships to change long-established practices within a community. Though this takes longer than simply placing a filter in a home, it comes with the hope and possibility that the filter is the first step towards continued change, change that will come from the strength within the village.

For example, in a village not far from where I was today, where biosand filters have also been installed in some of the homes, our partner’s ongoing relationships and conversations with the locals led to a realization that the large garbage dumps within their village needed to be moved as they bred disease. The locals decided to move the dumps and clean their village. The combination of these efforts has led to such a great reduction of waterborne disease in the community that they said that, last year, for the fist time in their history, there was no cholera within the community.

Yes, a biosand filter is a fantastic technology, but it is the education and the relationships that are key to long term success. It is because of these things I am hopeful that, if I return to Zambia in 10 or 20 years, these communities will not only have clean water, but will also have taken significant other steps to reduce disease and further community development. Tonight I turn to bed tired, but hopeful.