Pure water, pure love

At Los Tambos Goverment School in Belize, the water supply collects in a sustainable way, but it is not safe.

Evelyn Panero speaks to the need for water filters at Los Tambos Government School in Belize

Rainforest showers run from the roof top into a black 200-gallon cistern, with a wire mesh at the top to shield it from the largest debris that the showers wash off as they hit the rooftop. The system works to keep out leaves and sticks, and other large objects.  But this does not keep out the bird droppings rinsing from the roof top into the vat, nor deter tropical frogs and their tadpoles. It is a typical system of water collection for rural Belize, in schools, orphanages and homes; from these cisterns water is drawn for cooking, drinking and bathing.

“The water is not safe,” says Evelyn Penero,  teacher and supervisor of Los Tambos Government school, “The frogs and the tadpoles die in there, and the water is contaminated.”

Until three years ago, there was no simple, sustainable solution. Water filters had been tried, but they were heavy and their changeable parts were either expensive, unavailable to rural Belize, or both. Then the Rotarians got involved.

Jack Maxwell, a member of the Bixby (Okla.) Rotary International Committee and D6110 Chair of Water and Health Concerns, was looking for an international project and discovered the need. He began to search for a simple, inexpensive filtration system that was powerful yet sustainable in rural Belize. He found it in Sawyer Water Filters.

Sawyer Water Filters rely on a gravity-fed system that requires little more than a five gallon plastic bucket and lid, fitted with a hose to which the small Sawyer filter can connect, and a clean receptacle for purifed water. The Sawyer filters use hollow fiber membranes, a technology developed for kidney dialysis. The filters are comprised of tiny “U” shaped micro tubes that allow water to enter into their cores through tiny micro pores. The pointONE Filter’s™ pores are so small (0.1 micron absolute) that no bacteria which cause Cholera , Typhoid and E. Coli, protozoa, or cysts can get through.

In 2010 Maxwell and D6110 Assistant Governor Herb Orr made a six day trip to Belize.  They visited three clubs, three villages to study water catchment systems, three hospitals, the prison and the Belize Emergency Relief Team.

Maxwell’s initial trip to Belize resulted in partnerships between Carlsbad Hi-Noon Rotary in Carlsbad, Cali. and San Ignacio Rotary in Belize.  Through a grant written by Harry Peacock, of the Carlsbad club, and received by Sheree Fukai,  Belize Water Chair and member of San Ignacio Rotary club, the first Sawyer water filters  were delivered to 297 Schools and nine orphanages in Belize.

WL 01-15-13_ Beautiful in any language

Children of rural Belize suffer from water born diseases caused by e-coli and other bacteria flourishing in the black vats that store water collected from rooftops.

“We had to get the children healthy first,” Fukai said.

Since every classroom of Los Tambos Government School has had a Sawyer water filter attached, the children are healthier, Panero said.  “Our teachers use them everyday,” says Evelyn. “Now the water is so much better. The children are not getting sick as much.  But they need the filters at home, too.”

January of 2013, Maxwell has returned to help distribute 2,400 filter kits for homes in rural Belize. Tom Randolph of the Baton Rouge Rotary Club wrote a Rotarian Global Grant,  received by past District Governor Marcelo Coyi, MD  Belize City Rotary to fund the buckets and filters. Nine volunteers traveled to Belize to assist Jack with this trip,  seven  from Clovis, New Mexico and two from Joplin, Mo. Sheree and Aki Fukai also assisted with the distribution.

The filters are well received by Belize officials. Local directors of rural development ask farms to allow workers time off, and village chairmen gather their people for the required presentation and training in filter use  so families can have one of these simple  filter systems, capable of producing 500 gallons of clean water each day for their homes. Actual cost of the filters retail is about $60 U.S. apiece. Villagers are asked to contribute $5 per filter in Belize currency, approximately $2.50 U.S., to help give structure and value to the project locally. The Sawyer filters last approximately 25 years.

In the U.S., we do not think of access to pure water as a life changing experience. But in Belize,  pure water is a gift of pure love.