The last 3 weeks in April have seemed a life-time especially for the facilitators carrying the training responsibilities. Each of our 3 organizations contributed to making 4 successive training sessions in 3 cities a success – Eva Manzano of CAWST, Bob from CAPD, and Ivan and Rocio from FRPG. We are extremely grateful to Eva for her energy, creativity, experience and leadership that kept us all going through this grueling time.
We started in Cartago on a Thursday and Friday with a varied group of people interested in Household Water Treatment Systems (HWTS). They ranged from students, to engineering managers, to people involved in community water supplies where no treatment plants exist. The goal was to educate the group on a multi-barrier approach in order to have safe water – which may not meet potability standards but is safe enough to not cause disease. They were a good group and actively participated. Friday night we packed up, and Ivan and Rocio drove 8-10 hours back to Bogota with all the equipment, because Monday morning we started again.
Starting Monday, the first Bogota 3-day training covered much of the same material as in Cartago but with a bigger group of civil servants from the ministries of housing and health. Ivan and Rocio hardly got any rest and had the filters and other educational toys set up by the time Eva and I arrived. The additional day allowed representatives of the Ministry of Housing to talk about the alternative regulations that will govern appliances (filters) used in HWTS. Colombia is a leader in this concept of ensuring that appliances installed in rural homes meet some kind of standard. This is an exciting prospect to help rural families get safe water. These new regulations have generated controversy since there are factions within the various levels of government who want more formal and rigid control of water quality.
The workshop helped many see the challenge of helping people have a better quality of life in a very practical fashion, without giving up some of their oversight responsibilities. We also had a representative of the Ministry of Health to present a hygiene education program that they are implementing. This program theme will dovetail nicely with HWTS to reduce incidence of diarrhea and parasites particularly in children. Attendees were mostly civil servants from the ministries along with a few Red Cross volunteers. They all had some reason to learn about the practicalities of multi-barrier water treatment in homes.
The following Monday, we did it all again for Ministry people coming from outside of Bogota. A slightly larger group but again, prodded by Eva’s experiential-based learning activities, everyone soon got into the act. There is no nodding off in these sessions.
Wednesday night we packed up rather quickly but Ivan and Rocio had “pico y placa” – a system where cars are kept off the road one day a week during peak hours if they have a license number ending in x. So, they had to wait till 7:30 pm to start heading home. But they are younger than I am, so they have more stamina!
One more to go. Friday morning Eva, Rocio and I got together to plan the agenda for a training of Community promoters and Rotarians. We then headed to the airport and flew to Riohacha. Eva needed to buy 65 mochilas for an event she is organizing and the seaside promenade in Riohacha is the place to shop for these bags, so with a large fistful of cash, she spent 90 minutes negotiating with various street merchants. Mission accomplished, our host Rotarian, Harold Bonilla, drove us in the dark for 90 minutes to Fonseca. The training in Fonseca was different from the previous three since the Rotarians had limited knowledge of BioSand filters and project implementation despite recently having received financing to do a large project.
We also had approximately 14 community volunteers from the communities who will help with logistics, education and follow up for the 750 filters about to be built and installed. First thing to go was the power, so we had no light and no air-conditioning. Thankfully a Rotarian is the head of the local university where they have a generator, so all was not lost. A varied crowd with a wide range of education but again, no sitting on your hands in Eva’s classes. After 2 days we were confident that they had a solid understanding of the multi-barrier approach to HWTS and had a better understanding of how to implement a sustainable Project. Thanks to Harold and his wife Areidis for their hospitality.
We had a rather interesting wrap-up where people make kind comments but one older gentleman from a rural community got up and started singing a song he had made up just then. A few minutes later he delivered another one. I think they call these people “cuenteros” (story tellers). A nice ending.
We are happy to have accomplished an incredible amount of training which will foster demand for more filters in Colombia. Leaving Fonseca was not without its challenges but that is another story.