Training workshops for filter selection

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.

Small group discussion on water quality issues.

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.

They reviewed advantages and disadvantages of each filter type.
They poured dirty water through filters.

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.

Small groups are given thought-provoking exercise to encourage problem solving with real-life challenges.
They presented their solutions to a practical problem.

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.

An attendee from Red Cross presents results of small group exercise.

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.

Active demonstration of multi-barrier approach to treat water.

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!

Participants in one of the Bogota workshops.

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.

Rotarian. Harold, guides small group discussion.

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.

A group presents their results with confidence.

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.

Workshop participants in Fonseca finish on a happy note.

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.


A Chocolate Experience

I met Isidoro during our recent workshop (see blog on employment preparation workshop). Isidoro is from San Vicente, about a 2 – 3 hours bus ride from Bucaramanga, if all goes well. The town of San Vicente has about 4000 inhabitants but there are 38,000 living in the municipality. The zone is a major producer of cacao, the chocolate bean.

Isidoro makes his living fixing electronic equipment.

Isidoro didn’t go to school, but nevertheless is an educated man. As a child, he lived with his father in an isolated part of the municipality that was a 12-hour walk from the road. Although he didn’t attend school, a priest taught him to read the Bible. Then, at 12 years of age he was kidnapped by the guerrillas and at age 14 was injured by an explosive device and lost the use of his legs. After his “rehabilitation” he taught himself electronics from which he makes his living.

Isidoro poses in his store in front of his chocolate label.

Twelve years ago, he got the itch to do something new, and embarked on his chocolate journey. His dream is to make San Vicente a chocolate tourist destination. Olga, President of FANDIC, and I were his willing subjects on “The Chocolate Route”.

Isidoro’s store where he sells his chocolate products.

Isidoro makes 20 chocolate products and sells them in his store that he opened 2 years ago. Unfortunately he has to close the store because it isn’t self-sustainable. He uses personal funds to keep it in operation.

One of the 20 products, a box of chocolates.

He says that the population of San Vicente is not large enough to support the store. He wants to sell  his products in other cities such as Bucaramanga, but to do this he has to register his three lines of production with INVINA, the regulatory agency. And this is very expensive.

Olga and I pose with Isidoro in front of his factory. The emblem is of the coffee “mazorca”.

Isidoro makes 20 products including chocolate powder, with and without sweetener, and many types of caramels and chocolates, with the equipment in his factory. His factory is sustainable but to meet INVINA regulations he will have to upgrade the equipment.

After a tour of the factory, we visited the cacao finca from which Isidoro buys his raw material. Don Ernesto, the owner of the finca, has 10,000 cacao trees in production and another 10,000 trees coming on line. The cacao is 100% organic. He has 200 goats that produce a nutritious fertilizer and milk from which he produces a line of milk products.

Don Ernesto shows us a ripe “mazorca”.
He split it open to show us the beans.
The beans, with their mucous-like covering, are easily removed.

The beans are placed in a fermentation tank and turned every 7-8 hours to remove the mucous-like covering. Isidoro buys the entire “marzorca” and uses the shell as a container for chocolates and the mucous covering the bean in his recipe for caramels.

Cacao that has been dried in the sun for 3 days.

After fermentation, the beans are spread out to dry in the sun as shown in the picture above.

The bean on the left was put in the sun that day. The bean on the right has had 3 days in the sun. You can see the difference.

The picture above shows us the difference between a bean that is fully dried and one that just started its process of drying. The beans in the background have just put put out to dry. You can see the difference in colour. After drying, the shell is removed and the bean is ready to be processed.

A fake interview in the local community radio station.

Isidoro is a founding member of this community radio station that is completing its 20th year. It is one of the few community stations that is self-sustaining.

Isidoro is an entrepreneur who has founded social and business enterprises. He is a respected member of the community. His dream is that his chocolate business provide employment for people with disability in production and sales. And I have promised to help by starting a campaign.

Those of you who have experience with crowd funding please contact me. If you know of a Colombian or Canadian business person looking for an investment opportunity, please contact me. Let’s raise the roof for Isidoro Caballero!