What: Building Bio-Sand Water Filters in Cambodia
I have been SOOO excited for this project to begin! The ability to give others access to clean water is truly priceless. Would I be able to build with my back still incredibly swollen and sensitive from the accident (read what happen a few posts ago)? The few days I had to rest before my project began were spent sleeping (A LOT), meditating and thinking of all the amazing things I have to be grateful. I mean, I am here in Cambodia because of YOU!! I prayed every night that my back would heal quickly so that I am able to be a part of this and give 100%. I had so many questions: How many filters/wells would we build? How long does it take? I had no idea what to expect…
Globalteer, a UK based charity partners with the local project called Trailblazers who have been building and installing these filters for the last 10 years. They work in 5 districts and have installed over 4,000 water filters and 650 wells! The foundation began 10 years ago and was started by an American couple! They are both from Wyoming and have an office in Fort Collins, Colorado! Talk about a small world! I met with the founder, Scott Coats and he told me, “We came out here like everybody else, to check out the temples and were moved by the lack of clean water and the illnesses/deaths caused and decided we needed to do something.” What I LOVE about this foundation is that locals are employed and we (volunteers) are not taking any jobs away. In addition, all materials used for these filters are found locally, are inexpensive and provide long-term results!
Accommodation is a short walk/bike ride to the center of Siem Reap. Volunteers stay in a family-run guesthouse and we each have our own basic room with a fan, mini fridge, shower/toilet combo and a few gecko friends. The best part, the POOL!! It is incredibly refreshing after a long day working in the heat.
A day in the life:
We (myself and the other volunteers) get picked up every morning at 7:45am. Globalteer, the organization I came with employs local tuk tuk drivers to take us to/from the project site. Monday, Tuesday and Friday are half days. We spend those days building the bio-sand water filters from the ground up and preparing the materials required to make it all happen. It is quite the process and I’ll break it down for you below. Wednesdays and Thursdays are installation days/the long days. We ride in the back of a truck (an hour each way) to remote villages to install the filters/ some days drill wells to provide villages a ‘source’ for water, which obviously comes first depending on the village and their needs. On site, there are 12 local employees. On installation days, we head out with 2-3 staff members (filter team or the well drilling team) and 2-3 volunteers. The majority of volunteers are from an organization, word of mouth, or returning volunteers
Prepping: (video below)
There are 3 basic materials: big gravel, little gravel and sand. You will notice the sand here is very iron rich hence the orange/red color. First, we take a shovel worth of sand and sift it. Next we take the sifted sand and put it on the second sifter. Once it is really fine, we shovel 4 scoops into a bucket and head over to the washing station. We wash and stir the sand 4-5 times to remove the clay-ish like substance, which will clog the filters (while washing you see the 2 distinct textures, clay and sand). After the last washing, we test it by putting some sand in a half water bottle and shake it up. If the water and sand separate within 5 seconds we are all clear! Next, we strain the water and the sand goes inside a bag for installation day. Next, we wash both the large and small gravel and put a large scoop in individual black bags.
Would you believe these filters are about 200 pounds! The mold is comprised of 3 parts: The interior mold and the 2 separate exterior pieces, which we lightly grease with a vegetable oil so the cement doesn’t stick. The exterior pieces are attached together via nuts and bolts and then tightened with a wrench. Once tightened, we pour the cement (made with the same 3 materials and water) into the 4 molds with small buckets and fill it to the top. Next, we take a long pole and push it all the way down and up several times to stir it all up. Lastly, we take a rubber hammer and smack the heck out of the 4 sides to get out any air bubbles and let it set for about 8 hours. Talk about a great and inexpensive therapy J The following day, we take the scraper and file all the edges (they are really sharp so the guys don’t cut themselves while lifting) and paint 2 coats of a white anti-fungal paint. Lastly, the logo is spray painted on as well as the name or company that has sponsored a filter or many!
On Wednesday and Thursday we go on installations (6 per day), which comprise of sitting in the back of a truck, an hour each way to a rural village. The chief of the village meets us and has a notebook to track what families have a filter/need a filter. These villages operate on a micro-economy. Those living at the poverty line are making $2/day and these are families living under that line!! The filters are donated however each family is required to pay $3. This money goes into a community pot and everyone collectively votes on the best use of their funds. They buy animals, supplies, build better irrigation to support their farms, help those who are sick and many other things. Essentially, they are living to survive and they farm to feed themselves. The biggest issue with their lack of clean water is how sick many of them get. They can’t afford to not have the ‘man-power’ to help around. Finally, we educate locals on how to maintain their filter.They have to run a bucket of water through the filter 4x/day for 21 days to build up the bacteria and then they are ready to go!
**Honestly, one of the best days ever! I am standing next to the chief (above) after installing a filter for this family! This picture speaks for itself. The expressions are priceless :))