Recently I have been experimenting with plans for a bio-sand water filter than can be made out of a 5-gallon bucket.  See this previous post for how to make a bio-sand filter.  My trials at home were successful, so recently, Ross and I took the bio-sand filter plans, a few buckets, and some piping out to one of our friends, J., at a village called Majembe Juu up on the plateau in Makondeland.  This is the same village where we we rented a hut for the month of June.

Cutting okra leaves for dinner. Most of our friends eat greens like this every day with their cornmeal-mush called ugali. One thing I love about living here is that it is basically assumed that most people like vegetables!

My dear friend, C. I love this one of her.

J. and C. were very excited about the bio-sand filter.  Right now water resources are very tight, so C. walks twice a day to a riverbed about 2.5 miles away from her home to draw water and then carries 20 L (5 gallons) of water back on her head!  Talk about a work out–water is very heavy!  Most people drink this water right out of the river.  Although this does not make people as sick as you might think because they have been drinking it all of their lives, diarrhea and other water-bourne illnesses are a problem in the village according to some villagers we have talked with.  Many public health organizations recommend boiling water to kill bacteria, viruses, and amoeba before drinking it, but boiling is costly in terms of fuel (imagine carrying water as much as C. does, plus gathering all the firewood for cooking and boiling ALL your drinking water on top of that!), time, and human energy.  For this reason, I think that this bio-sand filter is a good water purifying option for most villagers.  This is made out of a plastic, 5-gallon bucket which is available in most villages.  Also, the filter is made of layers of rocks and sand which are abundant in the region.  Lastly, the plastic piping can be obtained in the closest large town, Newala.  If they wanted, I think that the village could send one person to Newala to get enough piping for many of them at one time because it is small, light, and relatively cheap.

J. and C. were very eager to start making the water filter as soon as possible.  They organized an outing to gather the different types of rocks and sand that they would need for the filter.  We gathered fine and fat sand from the river bed where C. draws water every day.  Then we washed the sand and removed organic debris in the stream of water trickling through the river bed.  In another area along the way to the river bed, we found just the right size pebble and rock for the bottom of the filter.

When we got back, we assembled the filter, and people started visiting to see what we were up to.  J. started to teach his friends about how the filter worked.  The villagers decided that the filter should be called the “Kienyeji Filter” or the “local” or “traditional” filter.  I hoped that this meant that it seemed like an accessible technology that was relatable and seemed usable to them.  Lots of people were surprised that normal “dirt” (aka. sand) could clean water!

J. teaching friends and relatives about the bio-sand filter.

One thing that I did not count on was how scarce and valuable water resources were in the village.  When I made the filter at home, I had plenty of water to wash the sand with before putting it into the filter as well as plenty of water with which to prime and start the filter.  When I was at home making the filter, I took this so much for granted that I had not even counted how much water I had used, but I had actually used a relatively large quantity of water to get the filter running.

However, in the village, the only water we had was the precious water that C. had brought on her head from the riverbed.  I felt terrible using all of that water in order to start a filter that deep in my heart, I was not absolutely sure would work!  We used our car to get J. & C. more water that afternoon, but the lesson learned was an important one for me.  The human and physical resources in the village are very precious, and when bringing a technology or project, there is much less room for error because resources are so tight.  Even a simple failed project could be discouraging and a real set-back in terms of resources.  That night, the filter was still putting out a dingy, muddy water (see picture above), and I could see that J and C were slightly let down that the filter had not worked instantly!  I should have prepped them better for what to expect, as well as explained how the initial setup would require a large investment of time and water resources.

That night, the filter was still putting out water that was more muddy when it came out than when it went in.  I was shaken and sad because the whole day had been given to the project, and I was afraid it would fail.  As I fell asleep under the starry sky, I prayed hard that God would have mercy and get that water filter working for the sake of J. and C. and the village.

In J.’s hut, Ross sat up with J. and his male friends, including the old man, C., J’s father.  The men sat in the small square room with their backs resting against the mud walls, still warm from the equatorial sun of the afternoon.  Their faces were bathed in dim, yellow light thrown from the smokey lamp in the center of the circle.  Each head was shod with different worn versions of the small Muslim hat, the “barakashia;” a silent testimony to the long devotedness of each man to seeking God.  A small radio projected the story of creation and the fall from Genesis.  They listened with their barakashias bowed and then talked into the night, discovering the Word of God together and what it might mean for their lives.

J’s father, Mzee (old man) C.

The next morning, when I woke, J. was already up and running water through his filter first thing.  I walked over to the bio-sand filter set up under a cashew tree.  This is what I found.

Clean, fresh, pure water.  Thank you, Father.

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst. And the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water gushing unto eternal life.” (John 4:14.).