A smile is worth a thousand words

To see a child smile like this, especially a child who doesn’t speak, delights and motivates us. It also provides proof of acceptance of the custom-made stroller we provided for him. These strollers are for children living in rural areas; children who can not sit in a conventional chair. BUT they know what makes them feel good – about that there is no doubt.

His name is Luis Fabian. He has just received this custom-fitted stroller in which he feels comfortable and safe. We have been providing one form or other of custom seating for children with disability since 2009. Our partners in this project are ASODISPIE, who do the design and construction, and the Rotary Clubs Ronda del Sinú from Montería and Cerrejon in Albania, La Guajira.


We encountered Tatiana while visiting Luis Fabian. There she sat, on the sandy ground, eating her breakfast. A closer look revealed bilateral club foot, a condition that requires a surgery that should have been done ages ago. Tatiana presents a new challenge to us – to construct a wheelchair fit for a rural setting but along conventional lines; a chair low enough for her to get in and out of independently, and narrow enough for her to push herself.

Our travels to isolated “rancherias” in La Guajira are arduous, especially during rainy season. Our visit to Nely required a truck with double traction (more traction than a 4 by 4). ASODISPIE constructed a new product in form of a walker with a seat to encourage Nely to strengthen her ability to walk.

Nely walking in her new walker. Note her sister lying in the hammock.
Nely takes a break.

Her younger sister (3 years old) has multiple disabilities in the form of visual and hearing limitation, cognitive and physical disability. Nely and Meleidas have not received therapy and are left to their own devices.

Meleidas struggles to prop herself up on her knees.

We put Meleidas on a cloth spread on the ground to see what she would do and the picture shows the result. The pity of it is, that she spends most of the day in the hammock, which is safe, but doesn’t offer her opportunity for development. Her family is very poor, so the Rotary Club will purchase a straw mat for her. We hope that the family will follow through and put her on this mat for periods during the day.

Jostyn looks like he is ready to fall asleep.

We keep working on the design of the stroller to improve the fit as well as the stability. Back in 2005, CAPD made the decision to no longer send used wheelchairs to Colombia, but rather to support local industry, especially that of people with disability.  As mentioned, the constructor is ASODISPIE, an association of people with disabilities. These projects not only provide them with an income source, but also build capacity toward a self-sustaining business.

Estefania poses with her mother.

We are also following-up on strollers provided in previous years, which gives us feedback on the durability of our product. As a result we are replacing cushions as well as stroller parts.

These strollers bring improved self-image to children, and freedom to families who can now take their child to visit relatives and friends. Thanks to the Rotary Clubs of Ronda del Sinú and of Cerrejon (through their Foundation, Manos Solidarias), for their collaborative effort in helping these children.


It Starts with Water

There is a village near Fonseca, La Guajira, Colombia called “El Confuso”. You will be mostly right about its meaning, even if you do not speak Spanish. When I visited this village more than 2 years ago, it was depressing – the village had a well, a wind-powered pump that actually worked, a rapidly disintegrating elevated water tank, and piped water to the 60 plus homes in the village.

Typical housing in the rural areas.

BUT, as in many, many places in Colombia, the water was brackish. People did not have many options for drinking water and ended up with parasites, stomach problems, and skin infections. Not even the vegetation would grow when watered with this brackish water. Nor did concrete last long when mixed with brackish water. Somehow the leaders in the community connected with the Rotary Club of Fonseca (friends of mine) and this started the ball rolling.

New well – sweet water.

What a difference 2 years have made! Together, Rotary Club of Calgary South and Rotary Club of Fonseca got some funding. It was matched by The Rotary Foundation. And then the local Rotarians and the community started working the approved plan – a hydrogeologic study, a new deeper drilled well producing sweet water, an electric pump, a new concrete overhead tank and BioSand filters in the homes.

New overhead tank.
Biosand filters in homes.

The community received some training in hygiene and filter maintenance and set up a monthly payment system to pay for repairs to the pump and controls. Each family pays C$1.00 per month and sometimes this is difficult – but they have seen the results. A recent electrical problem would have stopped everything if they did not have some funds for repairs. This experience provided much needed positive reinforcement, because it is not unusual for maintenance funding to disappear, effectively killing any progress to date. The Rotarians are involved in the management of this maintenance fund.

Rotarians pose with village leaders.

No more parasites, no more stomach aches, no more skin infections, and with sweet water gardens will actually grow. In the photo you will see the best ever raised garden. Not everyone has such a large and productive plot, but many now are eating better and have some surplus produce to sell. All because they now have reliable sweet water.

A super garden made possible with sweet water.

But the success of the water project has had a domino effect. One lady now is raising chickens as well as doing the market garden. A small private donation towards school desks triggered a community school painting day. A few soccer balls now have several teams of kids and adults playing soccer.

A chicken-raising endeavor is now possible because of sweet water.

The village name may sound depressing, but the inhabitants are not confused about one thing- it all started with water!!!



Safe Water Collaboration in Santa Marta

CAPD has a goal of providing 20,000 families with safe water. Obviously CAPD cannot do it themselves so it is a question of collaboration and building capacity to be used by other groups.

The week leading up to November 4th was a busy one in Santa Marta, as the 4 facilitators prepared for the first “formal” Biosand Filter Construction Workshop. Bob has taught similar workshops but never so elaborate or large. This workshop was collaboration among CAPD, CAWST (a Calgary non-profit that provides training world-wide), FRPG (Fundacion Red Proyecto Gente, who are CAPD partners), the Rotary Club of Santa Marta (provided the facility) and the Mejia family (provided a great place to stay).

Eva (CAWST), Ivan and Rocio (FRPG) coordinate workshop sessions.

The workshop attracted 19 participants. Some have been working with filters for a while, others were completely new to the technology. They ranged from members of a foundation working among coffee growers to stimulate production of organic coffee, to a Peace Corp volunteer, to University students working on water related topics in their theses. A couple had extensive experience with concrete and its uses in water tanks, others had some experience working with communities. It was a great time of sharing and learning.

We spent 3 intense days sifting sand, mixing concrete, filling molds, sifting and washing filter media and then stripping the form and installing the media.

Preparing concrete mix for filter box.
Sifting sand for filter media.
Washing filter media.
Jar test to see if the filter media has been washed sufficiently.

Groups are understandably proud when their concrete box comes out of the mold with no leaks and no damage. We suffered through the dust and the heat and a power failure for half a day which meant no air-conditioning. I am looking forward to -15 degrees in Calgary.

As always, the dynamic leadership of Eva Manzano of CAWST kept everyone focused and energized. No mean feat in such heat and humidity! Our thanks to Eva and the CAWST management who are increasingly focused on Colombia. Thanks also to Ivan and Rocio (FRPG) who are rapidly coming up to speed on effective training methods and are offloading Bob somewhat. Now we hope all who attended will continue pushing the idea of Household Water Treatment and that each one will eventually do their own project.

We could not have done this without the Rotary facilities and their logistic support. Thank you Rotary Club of Santa Marta!!!