Saturday, May 8, 2010

Clean water for Las Granadillas

During our February Medical Mission I spent a day translating for Dr. Anne Welch, one of our excellent pedia-tricians. We saw family after family where the baby at breast was round and rosy, but the children who were no longer nursing were thin, pale and listless. Anne diagnosed likely cases of parasites or water-born bacteria, and it made her mad. Why didn't these families have access to clean, safe drinking water? She told the Mayor of San Juan Opico how important it would be to improve the water systems. Clean water is hard to come by in El Salvador generally, not just in Opico, and the children are the ones who suffer most. I came away wanting to find something we in PeaceHealth could do to help families with this basic need.

When I came back to Bellevue, WA in March, I talked to Sr. Andrea Nenzel about the need for clean water in Salvadoran communities. In one of God's minor miracles , she had just heard about Sawyer Water Filters and encouraged me to look them up. I was impressed with what I read about them and ordered one for a trial. Dina Dubon de Garcia, a longtime friend of the CSJP community and our main contact for San Juan Opico, tried out the filter in her house and discovered that it worked well, filling a 5 gallon jug in about 20 minutes.

Today we took the filter to the community of Las Granadillas, located in a coffee finca in the hills at the southern end of the San Juan Opico municipality. Dina and Reyna, the local health promoter, called together a group for training, or "capacitacion," as it's called here, and did a magnificent job of community education. People in the group knew that you could clean the water by boiling it, but, they said, it didn't taste right after being boiled. They were curious to learn how this system new operates - and how the water would taste.

It's a very easy-to-understand and easy-to-follow system, using gravity flow to pull dirty water from an upper bucket through the small filter into a lower, clean water bucket. The Sawyer filters are cleaned by back-washing when they get full of gunk, and are guaranteed for 1 million gallons, enough to last a community for quite a good long time. It filters out bacteria, protozoa and cysts, filters water fast enough to be used by a small community, and the price is quite reasonable.

Dina showed the community how the system is assembled, and we were ready for the first test: water from the community tank was poured into the top bucket, and quickly passed through the filter into the bottom bucket. And then we all took a drink of the clean, fresh water, and everyone said it tasted just the way water should taste: "rica," said one man, the ultimate compliment for food or drink here.

They decided where the system will be placed and which family would be responsible for back-washing the filter. We'll be following up with a test of the filtered water and gathering the experience of the Las Granadillas community as they use the filter. And if it works, as we hope it will, we plan to provide more filters for more of the communities in San Juan Opico, thanks to the generosity of our donors. It's been a happy day.

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