“Mama!” Alison called to me from the kitchen of my in-law’s home in Indianapolis, IN. The previous night we’d flown in from Nicaragua, the last stop of our family’s around-the-world journey. I walked into the kitchen that morning and found Alison standing in front of the sink with a cup in her hand. “Can I drink this water?” she asked, pointing to the faucet with a suspicious look on her little face. This had become a common question during our trip as we moved in and out of countries where the water safety was questionable.
Yes, honey. Yes, we’re very lucky to be able to drink the water in our country. Even six months after our return to the United States, the miracle of clean, drinkable water coming through a pipe directly into my home can still get to me. When I turn the faucet to brush my teeth or rinse a dish, a vision of a young girl lugging a 5-gallon container of water up a hillside often pops into my head. It was a common sight during our time in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Water isn’t something we think about much here in the first world, but getting clean water is one of the most crucial and time-consuming aspects of life in many developing countries. Today 780 million people in the world still don’t have access to a healthy water source and as a result an estimated 2,200 children under the age of 5 die EACH DAY from diarrhea and intestinal infections caused by unsafe water. It’s one of the biggest problems facing our humanity.
That’s why we were very excited to volunteer with an organization working to address the clean water problem. Village Water Filters is a nonprofit providing low cost, high-tech water filtration devices. The organization was started by Bob Ashley, a retired dentist, who decided to do something about the unhealthy water situation. Many programs in developing countries help construct wells, provide large scale water treatment units, and supply primitive stone filters or expensive modern devices. In his research Bob still saw the need for a durable filter utilizing modern technology which could be manufactured at a very low cost. Such a filter would serve people not supported by large scale programs or able to afford expensive filtration technology. He collaborated with scientists and engineers and invested $150,000 of his own money to create this new device and manufacture the parts going into it. This high-tech water filter is sold at cost for just $19, and Bob hopes to see that price come down dramatically in the future as the organization matures and has the ability order larger quantities of the filter’s components.
To keep costs down, Village Water Filters is fully staffed by volunteers. Everything from the administrative activities to the assembly and packaging of the filters depends on the time, efforts and skills of dedicated community members in Summit County, Colorado. The organization also has a partnership with the Rotary Club of Summit County to connect with the hundreds of Rotary Clubs supporting clean water projects throughout the world.
As a member of the local Rotary Club, I got the chance to help with one of Village Water Filters assembly sessions. Ten volunteers manned various stations in the organization’s headquarters in Silverthorne, CO. Bob trained us on each step of the process, and then he set us to work. In less than 3 hours our group had assembled and packaged 325 new filters. The tubs we filled with packaged filters actually hold millions of gallons of clean, healthy water.
We’ll be reaching out to the organizations we worked with in Africa and Southeast Asia during our family’s journey to see if these filters can be beneficial to the people they serve in rural areas. Perhaps someday we can take a trip to see these water filters in action.