On a recent evening, Emma shared,
"Here we are well, and time has gone by so fast—it’s November already. Thank God, there are not so many victims of COVID here in Bolivia just now.
In our project, we’ve been reducing the work of creating water purifiers, little by little, focusing on trying to install those that we’ve already fabricated. This last Saturday we installed two, the week before another. In fact, we’re in the process of closing down this project. The forms to build them are getting old; to build new ones would be very costly, so the project has come to a natural point of closure. We have a plan to install 10 final purifiers before we end the project. In the last month we’ve done installations for 6 families, and there are four more filters built and ready to go.
This past Saturday we installed for two families in the little town of Palcoco, near the snow-capped Andes mountains. The final filters we hope to install in another small town, Huarina, which is near Lake Titicaca but in the mountains, where people don’t have access to drinking water. We’re hoping to install the last 4 filters there.
One of the young people who helps to both build and install the purifiers is Daniel. He participated in an event on climate change at the international level, giving testimony about his country and experience. This was a side event of COP26, on October 31, 2021. It made us really happy, because he could speak with great facility about how he understood climate change based on his experience with the project. When he goes to install filters for families, he sees the problem of lack of water, and the impact of seasons that aren’t the same as they once were: times of too much rain, or great drought.
His experience working with the project for almost three years gave him the wisdom and strength to bear witness to how climate change affects our country, and the capacity to share those experiences and understandings clearly and powerfully.
This whole team has worked together for almost three years, and they have become leaders in this work. Today one of the team members went to on their own to pick up the project brochures at the Friends Bilingual Center, and then to talk with the family ahead of an installation. They were easily able to do that. They have all come to appreciate the importance of doing something, rather than sitting there with hands folded. Knowing what kind of project work is really worth doing, that’s maybe something each of us can carry on. We share a commitment to doing project work that looks at an enormous, overwhelming reality of change and undertakes a small, concrete action.
Either this Saturday, as this report is posted, or the Saturday following, we hope to install the final filters. We will close with a celebration of the persistence and dedication of the participants, who have given the gift of clean, safe water to so many families, even in these difficult times. Today, we celebrate you, and your contributions, which made our work possible.
Our thanks to you, friends.
Project leader Emma reports,
"Here in La Paz, it’s really cold. Winter is hard, because the houses here don’t have any heating. So it’s very cold, even indoors. Your whole body aches when you get up in the morning.
Two weeks ago the COVID cases were very high, and many people died. This week it’s a little more stable, although there’s worry about a fourth wave in August. But now the government is actively helping people to get vaccines. One piece of good news is that Bolivia just opened up vaccination to all those over 18, two months ahead of schedule, so all those working for the project are now eligible to be vaccinated.
Even as vaccines arrive, we’ve been having difficulties in the project: participants have lost parents to COVID, or who left to care for ill parents. It was harder to continue with good energy in their absence. But, thanks to God, none of the project volunteers have become ill. We do have two participants, Rodrigo and Diego, young men who lost their father to COVID. It’s a sad thing for us. And we’ve had to be patient, as well, because they were very active in constructing the concrete containers for the biosand filters. When their father became ill, they had to stop volunteering to care for him, and then to deal with family issues after he passed away. So we’ve had to be patient and understanding, and then to engage in a healing process, to reintegrate them back into the project team.
Especially in the last two months, it has been important to us as a team to collaborate closely. We have worked actively to understand and help one another. This has allowed us to support Diego and Rodrigo in carrying the pain of losing a family member. In addition, for these two young men who have just lost their father, returning to the project has offered them something meaningful to do.
It was encouraging to see that, during these young men’s absence, the other volunteers were ready and willing to jump in to cover their roles. We would say, “they can’t come to work today, they’re taking care of their father.” The rest of the volunteers would say, “don’t worry, I can help in the morning,” or, “I can show up in the afternoon to help with the installation work.” Usually we prepare materials in the morning, then we go and install the filters in the afternoon. Even the two young men affected by their father’s death never said, “I don’t want to work.” They came back as they were able, and reincorporated themselves into the project.
So, here at the Biosand Filter Project, important work continues despite the loss of loved ones for some of our key participants. We have been able to continue, with a deeper understanding of these incredibly difficult times we’re going through. We have worked in three different towns, and were able to install filters there—that has been one of the goals of the project, to perform installations in other communities.
We give thanks to God for giving us patience, energy, and the will to keep working. I think it’s been a time of really learning to continue living, to work as a team even in such difficult times.
I think it’s not meant to be easy, to lose a loved one, and then continue in the life that you were living. I think these challenges require real courage. They have strengthened us, and we are grateful to be active in this work of building and sharing biosand water filters.
"The good news is, we have been working practically all of January and February doing biosand water filter installations every weekend, in different neighborhoods of La Paz and its surroundings. Last December, emerging from the pandemic lockdown, we were just building filters, so in January and February, we had enough to install them every Saturday: we’ve installed for more than 10 families this year already.
That’s been our main work in the last few months—installing, and installing and installing. Before, we were back and forth between building and installing. This year, we’ve just been installing, which flows much better, because we could organize the work well in advance.
It’s been an important and positive change for us. It takes time to install—we have to carefully wash the sand, and then travel to where the families are, which is sometimes far away. We’ve installed for two families almost every Saturday, even though sometimes it’s hard to find two families near enough to each other to reduce the transportation costs.
We’ve been fortunate this year to have the help of Esther, a university student who has joined the project. She’s really good at doing outreach and coordinating installations with families. She visits families at their homes, and is able to explain how the purifiers work in Aymara, many people’s mother tongue. We’re so happy Esther has joined the team!
Something we’ve set as a goal is to install biosand filters for families who really have a great need for clean water in their homes. We’re really happy to have reached more families already this year than we could all last year. In fact, last Saturday we started building a new set of filters, because we ran out of ones ready to install. We have more families waiting for their filters to be ready, for us to bring them to their homes.
Something interesting has happened recently: we’re receiving calls from people who have heard from others for whom we’ve installed biosand filters. They’re saying, now we want one too! That’s something new and exciting, to have families we’ve worked with recommend having a purifier in the house to neighbors and extended family members.
I would say that there have been great advances over the last two months toward achieving the goals of the project. The only thing that has held us back is that sometimes nature doesn’t cooperate to let us do our work! Two weekends ago, everybody arrived at 9 am, but it rained the whole morning. For us, each Saturday is something valuable, something precious—we’re giving our time, part of our weekend. So when nature imposes, it’s a little bit disappointing. Despite that one rainy day, the project is thriving. We are grateful take part in it!"
Project Leader Emma Condori Mamani reflected recently on the importance of the Biosand FIlter Project, and the commitment of the young people involved during this year unlike any other. We hope you'll consider a donation on December 1st, when your gift will garner matching funds!
"My experience of growing up in a small Indigenous community gave me insights that help me to persevere in accomplishing work for those who are around me.
This year, because of the pandemic, my friends and I had to work doubly hard to accomplish our plans for building and installing the biosand filters for Bolivian families. For instance, Diego, who is one of our young collaborators, lost his job in March because of the lockdown due to the pandemic. He still lives with his parents, who are seniors. He has not found a job yet, but he has not given up on building and installing biosand filters, beginning as soon as the strict quarantine was lifted three months ago. He has been coming faithfully on Saturdays to our worksite in order to provide biosand filters to those who need them.
Like Diego, most of us faced severe changes in our lives this year. We have had to cope with challenges at our home, at our work and at our school. Nevertheless, our compassion, love and care for others has given us light and strength to continue helping Bolivian families in this pandemic time by making it possible for them to get fresh and clean water at their home.
Please, join us in promoting joy and hope in our country!"
Please consider honoring the commitment of Diego, Emma and the team with a gift to the Bolivian Biosand Filter Project on December 1st, Giving Tuesday. All contributions received on that day will be eligible for matching funds from GlobalGiving. We will receive a an additional 50% match from a generous donor on the first $500 donated!
The Biosand Water Filter Project has been able to restart work! We have been trying to work each Saturday since September. It is still difficult, because the hours that we can be out and about are still curtailed. We have been installing filters, primarily, becuase we already had some prepared.
One wonderful thing is that everyone who was part of the team came back. None of them had had huge problems with COVID, or with their families. They came, all of them, and they have been working every Saturday except this past Saturday, which was the day of the presidential election in Bolivia. Here is a story of a recent Saturday.
Traveling together to Vilaqui as a team
On Saturday October 3rd the team, Diego, Angela, Daniel, Alejandra and I, went to install the biosand filter in a village called Vilaqui, which is a small village near the Andes mountains. Although we had a limited time to work during the day because of the COVID-19 quarantine in our city, my team felt confident to cope with the time in order to make available clean and safe water for members of a family in Vilaqui.
Early in morning at the work site, the team gathered to sift the sand into its three sizes, and to make the lid and diffuser of the biosand filter. All of the team put their heart into preparing and assembling the biosand filter, as we accomplished our various tasks that morning. The ambiance was really nice, because each worker helped with getting all materials prepared for the installation. At noon, the team had a light lunch because we had to travel by bus to Vilaqui. With the favor of God, at around 1:00 pm, all of us were sitting on the bus for a new adventure: meeting members of a new family in Vilaqui, having a visit with them, and installing the biosand filter there.
Whenever we are installing a biosand filter, the family members gather to ask several questions regarding the biosand filter. Rosa, who is the mother of the family, came to talk to us happily, and she asked, ¨How does it work?¨ ¨What do we have to do to take care of it?¨ Rosa´s daughter and her two sons were near us all the time, too, so that showed us how much they were interested in adopting the biosand filter into their care and into their home. Each member of the group gave a response to their questions. Some of us had to give the answers in two languages, Spanish and Aymara, in order to make sure everyone in the family understood the information and instructions about the biosand filter clearly.
From the time we arrived at this family's home until we said goodbye, we had a good time. We laughed along with them because of the cows they had in the backyard. To the team, it was surprising to see these cows in a place where there was not really water in the river near the town. Even so, they shared some homemade cheese with us. When we left Vilaqui, we felt full of joy and gratitude for life and for the people we had met there. We felt as if the biosand filter project family had grown.
Our team has had this kind of experience, full of good memories, at each family’s home where we have installed a biosand filter since early September, after the 24-hour lockdown of March-May, and strict the quarantine and curfews that followed.
Cover photo: Rosa and her daughter take possession of their new biosand filter.
Photo 2: Team leader Diego checks the different grades of sand before loading the family's new filter.
Photo 3: The team--Daniel, Diego, Angela and Alejandra--get the water flowing.
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