When one mentions “Household Water Treatment Systems” for Colombian homes without treated water, one must go far beyond what we in Canada are familiar with.  A lot of these homes are actually in peri-urban locations with piped but untreated water.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect technology with reasonable cost, ease of use, high effectiveness, tolerant of turbid water and a long useful lifespan.  There is a lot of dis-information floating around and some of it promulgated by manufacturers.

CAPD, as part of our plan to scale up, recognized the need to raise level of awareness among decision makers.  CAPD and our Colombian partner, FRPG, were asked by CAWST (Centre for Affordable Water & Sanitation Technology) to host a 2-day workshop in Bogota to raise the level of knowledge concerning available treatment systems.  It was a good fit for what CAPD is trying to achieve.  You may know that CAWST is the Calgary entity whose mission is to train people to improve their water and sanitation situations.  They have a broad experience and knowledge of most of the technologies related to treating water in households.


On March 28 and 29, using our collective contacts in Colombia, we hosted 29 people at the Centro de Juventudes in Bogota.  The seminar was over-subscribed and included a wide range of participants including representatives of the Ministry of Housing, who are responsible for drafting legislation for alternative technologies, ICONTEC (national standards setting body), Universities, municipal water system representatives, various filter suppliers and non-governmental organizations.

Factors in selecting an appropriate system

Eva Manzano of CAWST shared her extensive knowledge and wonderful facilitation skills to guide us through the multiple barrier approach that is necessary in the field and helped us evaluate the various technologies in an unbiased manner. CAPD purchased a wide variety of filters that the group could actually test using fairly realistic water quality.  Happily, the group concluded that the BioSand Filter ranked as one of the best solutions for households.

The seminar was very well received and there is a strong possibility that two more seminars will be held in June.


Our Last Days in Colombia

Bob and I are now back in Calgary but still have a few things about our last weeks in Colombia left to show you .

Following a successful workshop for coordinators of the Safe Water program, Bob and Eva, the workshop leader, spent four days in La Guajira where they visited Wayuu “rancherias” in which the Rotary Club Cerrejon has been providing filters to needy families.

A rancheria in La Guajira where temperature averages about 35 C and water is scarce.
Families collect water in old oil cans – not the best but it is available.

Later, the group traveled to Fonseca, a town site where they meet up with Harold, a Rotarian from the Fonseca Club.

Luis Alberto, the safe water coordinator, provides on-site filter orientation to the homeowner while Rotarians, Harold and Heriberto, and Eva listen.

Bob continued his travels by going to Santa Marta, Medellin and Bogota to meet with other Rotary Clubs, businesses and our local safe water promoters, Rocio y Ivan. Back in Calgary, he can finally stay put for a little while, at least.

I arrived in La Guajira the weekend after Bob left, traveling in the company of John, the engineering technician working on the custom stroller project. These strollers are custom-made for each child and are adjustable to provide a comfortable and secure fit. Three of the five strollers delivered in La Guajira were to children living in “rancherias”.

When John and I arrived, a hurricane (forget which one) was blowing over the Caribbean, throwing rain on a normally dry area. This complicated our travel by converting normally sandy, dusty roads into something that felt like slushy snow (slip and slide).

At one point, we left the truck to get through a difficult part of the road, only to find our own challenges.

The stroller project gives me a great deal of satisfaction. When we seat a child, I check the posture, of course, but I also look at the child’s face. I want to capture the child’s expression to know if and when he or she feels really comfortable. An expression of satisfaction and in some cases, all-out joy, comes into the eyes of even those who are profoundly affected and do not express themselves verbally or with facial expression.  In those cases, we take our cue from the parent who, in many cases, express relief that a good solution has been found.

This is Robinson last year. Notice he isn’t smiling.
This year, Robinson couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. Now we can actually SEE him!
Another photo with part of the family and Rotarians from the Cerrejon Club, with Martha the Club’s Foundation Social Worker. This same Rotary Club supports the Safe Water and the Education Assistance Programs – busy people!

CAPD works with Rotary clubs in a cost-sharing arrangement to provide these strollers. The assessment is completed well in advance to allow ASODISPIE time to finish construction.

Jorge, ASODISPIE’s technician, constructs anything that has to do with metal. His son and assistant, Giovanni, can be seen in the background.

The next weekend, John and I were off to Montería where CAPD shares the project with the Rotary Club Ronda del Sinu. This year was the third for the stroller project in this district and besides providing new strollers, we reviewed strollers provided in previous years.

Jonaton and his mother traveled four hours to make the appointment.
Mario and his mother and brother are equally satisfied.

Bob and I are happy with the results of this trip. Not to say that improvements cannot be made, because there is lots of room for providing a better product to more people.

But, above all we are thankful – thankful to be working with people who are committed and passionate about their work; thankful that we have been given this work to do; and thankful for the guiding hand that directs our organization and that of our partners. We are also thankful to have supporters such as you, who keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Bob and Marlene


National Safe Water Workshop

Each participant received a Safe Water bag for carrying materials on community visits.

Fourteen participants came from four different Colombian states to participate in a workshop given by Eva Manzano from CAWST (Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology) based in Calgary. All are currently actively involved in Safe Water Projects supported by CAPD and our partners.

The 4-day workshop was held in ASODISPIE’s new Centre located in Piedecuesta, Santander. Not only did we learn important components of training such as motivation and the four stages of learning, but also HOW to train other people in a manner that was didactic, fun and inclusive. There were no power points in this workshop!

Self evaluation took place at the beginning and end of the workshop.
There was lots of group work

And there was time for one-on-one discussion to clarify issues or to talk about specific project issues.

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Following training on topics such as active learning and listening, participants learned essential components of lesson planning followed by teaching sessions in front of the group. Each participant had an hour to prepare materials for the lesson they were given and 10 minutes to present a training session that would normally take one hour.

Reading over the lesson plan and deciding how to present it.
Gathering together the materials required…


…or drawing them.

The lessons used any number of dynamic activities such as the role play in the pictures below where a neighbour is given water that is turbid – not pleasant!


Or use of written materials as well as symbolic props such as below:

Teaching on water contaminants


See that smiley face on this “worm”?

And using the audience as part of the presentation. In this case, the old and the young are at greatest risk of illness from contaminated water.


Following the 4 days, seven participants stayed for an additional two days during which they developed their own lesson plans in a Colombian context. All materials developed will shared with all participants.

Several lesson plans were developed by each group.

The time came for celebration of achievement. It was a terrific workshop and our thanks go to Eva Manzano, an excellent workshop leader, and to CAWST for collaborating with CAPD to provide this workshop.



Road Trip – Bob’s visit to water projects

I did a lot of traveling within Colombia during the month of October. Starting in Santander some Rotarians took me to visit a “Rotary” project where they have used CAPD molds to build and supply 250 families with filters.


Water supply in rural areas is precarious and this “manifold” allows water to be shared among 70 hoses that run for kilometers over the ground to the various farms.


As a CAPD volunteer I try to visit any filter project to offer guidance and encouragement and possibly plan a follow-on project.

After a 6 hour bus ride over twisting mountain roads, I came to Tunja in the state of Boyaca.  This city is very high and very cold at night and with intense sun during the day. Here I spent time with Ivan and Rocio.  Their Foundation RPG is collaborating with CAPD and they have built and installed 102 filters in the altiplano where the rural folk exist between selling milk and growing potatoes.


Ivan and Rocio have  installed two filters n a rural school where it has good visibility.


School filters and talks to school children are important  for keeping families using their filters properly and washing their hands with soap – all those little people reminding their parents how to do things properly!

I spent some time with Ivan and Rocio  in Bogota investigating alternatives to the concrete version of the Biosand filter but that will be a separate Blog.  A visit to Parex Resources, a highly successful Canadian (not so junior) oil company, was also very encouraging.  I’ll expand on that when we have something more definite.

More bus riding to a city called Ibague, on the edge of the coffee zone.  Lots of mountains and valleys!  Many neighbourhoods on the edge of this city of 600,000 rely on rural water systems, organized as a  kind of a cooperative which finds water up the mountain and pipes it into the homes, without any possibility of treating it.  Each family pays a monthly fee for service, sometimes based on consumption.  During rainy periods the water comes out of the tap the colour of tea or worse and the bacteria count is way too high.  This is a typical peri-urban neighbourhood in Ibague and the water comes from “up there”.


There are many of these rural water cooperatives serving neighbourhoods on the periphery of  Ibague and apparently more than 12,000 in the nation.  The Rotary Club of Nuevo Ibague is using Rotary funding to serve 370 families with filters and training in maintenance and hygiene.  They are using 6 molds on loan from CAPD.  Their “product” has great quality thanks to Mario,  who is a stickler for quality – zero leaks!!!


This club is extremely well organized and despite the workload the Rotarians are really enthusiastic.  I attended some sensitization sessions with them and was impressed with their dedication.



Later, they treated me to a unique experience – lunch with a bunch of farmers who were displaced by armed groups more than 20 years ago.  The 15 families have made what appears to be a successful transition and now have their own land and are prospering.  I was very impressed with their positive forward looking attitude and ability to articulate this.  The ladies who provided lunch were also very interested in what we had to say.



By good fortune they connected with the Rotarians and now have filters as well.   The challenge for CAPD is to keep these experienced groups functioning even after the Rotary funding has been spent.  Your donations to CAPD help these enthusiastic teams continue to serve needy people.

Next stop on the tour was Monteria near the Caribbean coast.  The club of Monteria 2 has been working with CAPD and filters for almost 5 years and has helped more than 2,000 families with safe water.


CAPD has funded about half of the filters with the other half of the funds coming from municipalities.  We are trying to encourage more of this approach.  The Rotarians took me on an inspection trip to visit a zone formerly famous for its insecurity but thankfully a lot safer now – called Montes de Maria.


This agricultural area is very fertile and very lovely but tough to access via clay mountain roads that are okay for motorcycles but tough on trucks and impossible when it rains which happens frequently.  The project is fully financed by a large rural development project and is well advanced. Sr. Juan has built most of the thousands of filters and does a good job. Fabiola and Juan pose in front of some of the 16 CAPD molds.


Here are some more Rotarians visiting the work site for the weekly inspection.


We have more irons in the fire but that will have to wait for another Blog. After a month on the road I was very happy to be reunited with Marlene in Bucaramanga.




Treated to a Fiesta – Visit part 2


WELCOME TO OUR PARTY – FANDIC is the message that greeted us as we walked into the venue. For one hour we were treated to a talent show featuring Fandic children, their brothers and sisters, and their mothers.

There was traditional folk dancing.
There was traditional folk dancing.
As well as improvised expressions.

Everyone got into the act…

She dances while her sister helps stabilize    img_0194b

Even the mothers danced for us.


But it was the ‘dramatic’ dancing that was new and very impressive.  The couple below are acting out the story of the song, a level of expression I had not seen before. The credit goes to the woman in a uniform above, a professional dance teacher, who has come to work with Fandic.


Back at therapy they work in pairs on life skills that emphasize learning, memory and expression of speech.   As you can see, they often contribute to each others input.


Learning is made enjoyable judging by the smile on Daniel’s face!


FANDIC was registered as a non-profit organization in 1998. Since then they have grown to operate in two locations, the original north site that is located close to the homes of the families and is their second home, and the central site that operates social programs as well as private therapy. This year their social program includes 64 children from the impoverished north sector. There are many more children needing therapy in this sector, however. They seem to come from between the cracks within society. Their financial support comes from government contracts, private donors and CAPD.




Board members visit Colombian Programs

Last week, two CAPD Board members, Glenn and Maysan, made a whirlwind tour of three states in which CAPD has programs. Our first stop was La Guajira, a coastal, semi-arid state with a large population of indigenous people called Wayuu. Here, we had the pleasure of visiting CAPD’s newest addition to the Green Light Education Assistance Program – four primary schools located in Wayuu communities near Albania. We arrived to find students, teachers and parents gathered to greet us. Some schools presented a traditional dance whereas others presented us with a ‘mochila’, a traditional woven bag. All schools provided us with the opportunity to talk to the students. We felt very welcome.


When these students start pre-school, they begin classes in Spanish as a second language. By grade 4, the threesome in the picture above were already able to converse very well in Spanish. Each of them delivered a well-prepared speech for us. Impressive!


This newly painted school had not a drop of colour when I visited one year ago. The parents of the program painted it as their contribution to the Green Light Program. They also built a fence around the school to keep the goats out and cleaned up the school grounds.

Martha, the coordinator of the Green Light program in this area shows us the new fence.


Some schools presented the Wayuu traditional dance.
Students, teachers and parents assembled to greet us.
Students, teachers and parents assembled to greet us.


Some of the children volunteered to come to the front to tell us what they wanted to be when they were older. Many told us they wanted to be a teacher, others a doctor, and still others a football player! One school had three special needs children who don’t yet receive specialized assistance in these schools – it is something to work towards.

Saying goodbye, we left this coastal region and headed for city of Pereira located in a mountainous coffee-growing zone of Colombia. Here we visited with junior high students from two schools, one of which is presented below.


These students, also part of the Green Light program, tell us about their ambitions for the future. The girls were the major spokespersons when the group was asked about their future ambitions. They were being questioned by Maysan (CAPD President) and Glenn (CAPD Secretary) along with Gilma (Green Light Coordinator in Risaralda) and Paulina the Green Light facilitator for the school.

This little tot wasn’t officially enrolled for this year but just came along with his sibling. Maysan took interest in his puzzling work and gave him a hand.

The Green Light Education Assistance Program is available to students from low-income families in the states of Santander, Risaralda and La Guajira. Students must maintain a 75% average to stay in the program and their parents (or substitute) contribute their labour to school maintenance or programs. This year, 828 students benefited from this program that aims to keep the students in school until graduation.

Stay tuned to read Part 2 of our visitors’ trip to Colombia.



Filter Project in the Alto Plano

CAPD is working with the Fundacion Red Proyecto Gente – loosely translated as the Network of Projects for People.  We call it FRPG for short.  The pilot project is serving 102 families in the high Andes of Colombia at altitudes exceeding 9000 feet.  The photos below will give you some appreciation of the activities and challenges.


Rocio is the Foundation President and here you see her explaining the agreement to some of the families and then getting a signature from a lady farmer.  This agreement is to stimulate a sense of ownership and allow the program to remove the filter if the family does not use it, which almost never happens.  As in many Andean populations, everyone has a hat and is dressed in layers including the traditional heavy wool ruana or poncho.  Weather changes very quickly at these altitudes.


Rocio and her husband Ivan have rented a house in the area so they could minimize travel time and relate better to the neighbours.  The population in this rural area is served by 3 rural water sources basically hoses from distant springs bringing water to the farm homes.  Each home has a water meter and pays a small amount for the water consumed.  These funds go to pay a Fontanero (water man) who is hired to keep the systems working.  Water quality is reasonable much of the time but during some seasons it looks like milky tea and in other seasons families are encouraged to ration their usage.  The BioSand Water filters take out the turbidity and improve the quality but need a reliable water source on a daily basis to ensure filter function.


FRPG is learning all aspects of filter construction and community distribution through this pilot project. Here, Edward an environmental engineer and a director of the organization, fixes some leaks in a filter box.


Producing the filter media has been a huge challenge during the climatic phenomenon called El Niño .  The water sources could not produce enough water to properly wash the filter media, a process that requires a large amount of water.  After many trials, FRPG found a commercial provider of fine washed sand at a very reasonable price. Here you see the first delivery of the bagged commercial sand.

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However, a small amount of prepared gravel that forms a base for the fine filter media, still needs to be washed. Here you see Rocio helping the family perform this responsibility. Everyone wants to pitch in.  Or is it just that they want to play in the water?




Families must pick up their filter boxes and filter media from a central location on the mountain side.  Some families collaborate to hire a truck; others do things on their own manpower or horsepower.  These photos give you some idea of how it is done.


Installation is a lengthy process since the filter must be flushed to remove the dust particles trapped in the filter media. Rural women are never idle and while waiting for the flushing to be complete, this lady is busy spinning. There are no heating systems so notice all the layers of her clothing.


So the project is progressing and over half the families are enjoying safe water now. Some of the households with children have become creative.

We are thankful to have a partner such as FRPG (Rocio, Ivan and Edward) and look forward to working with them in other regions of Colombia.



Expansion of Education Program in Santander

A view of Purnia below
A view of Purnia below

The muncipality of Purnia is tucked in a valley between the mountains of the Mesa de los Santos. It is a fertile agricultural zone with crops such as tomato, peppers, corn, tobacco, maracuja and pineapple.

Students proudly display their uniforms
Students proudly display their uniforms

We added 24 students from this school to our Green Light Education Assistance program this year. The school is rather old, but apparently a new one is on the drawing board.

A typical classroom
A typical classroom
Playground with bathrooms at rear
Playground with bathrooms at rear

Rocio, Martha and I are here for a meeting with the parents and some of the students. We met our new facilitator, Ana Edilia, and were very impressed with her leadership. She really has those parents and students motivated!

Rocio, the Coordinator, with Ana Edilia, the Facilitator at this school
Rocio, the Coordinator, with Ana Edilia, the Facilitator at this school
Parents and students listen attentively to Rocio and Ana Edilia
Parents and students listen attentively to Rocio and Ana Edilia

And then there are the young ones…our future and still so cute.

Pre-schoolers with a “sort-of” smile


Support CAPD by donating below:

The New Look of ASODISPIE

You may remember that I posted photos of ASODISPIE when under construction last year. Well, I thought you might like to see the finished product. It is truly a marvel and they are so proud of this accomplishment. Enjoy the pictures. Marlene

Street view of ASODISPIE
Street view of ASODISPIE
Open multi-purpose meeting place
Open multi-purpose meeting place
Therapy gymnasium
Therapy gymnasium
Audiovisual conference room. Equipment still to be installed.
Audiovisual conference room. Equipment still to be installed.
Rear view showing ramp
Rear view showing ramp

Sustainability in the Making

I look back over the years that CAPD has been in Colombia and marvel at the transitions that have occurred. As the years have progressed, so have the roles that CAPD has played in relation to our partners. Take, for example, FANDIC, our first partner. Whereas CAPD served as a mentor for FANDIC in their infancy and adolescence, so FANDIC now assumes that role for others. CAPD fades while FANDIC gains strength. They have become the multipliers.

I mentioned in the last blog that Martha, the social worker who was my guide and assistant in La Guajira, was to visit us in Bucaramanga. That 3-day visit was full of meetings and encounters that opened up a world of knowledge and experience that will be useful to her and others in La Guajira.

Olga guides Martha in strategies for people with disabilities
Olga guides Martha in strategies for people with disabilities

Olga, the President of FANDIC, is a major resource in Community Based Rehabilitation, a World Health Organization strategy for community development that includes people with disabilities. She provided Martha with the basis of how to proceed in helping the children we visited in La Guajira to receive the type of assistance they require.

Oscar explains past, present and future of ASODISPIE
Oscar explains past, present and future of ASODISPIE

From Oscar of ASODISPIE Martha heard about the humble beginnings of people with disability getting together, then forming an association that met in garages and homes until they were able to acquire the property from which they now run their programs. Amazing and what an example of persistence!

Parents and students listen attentively
Parents and students listen attentively

And with Rocio we traveled to meet with parents and students in the Education Assistance program in rural zones. She saw Rocio’s approach with parents and how parents responded; she heard of difficulties in school but also expressions of commitment. Rocio provided a base of knowledge and experience to help her grow the program in La Guajira.

We are looking forward to facilitating stronger ties between our partners in Bucaramanga and in La Guajira. For this is sustainability in the making.