My last week in Bluefields with blueEnergy seemed to fly by very quickly. The final week of my mission was guided by analysis of the data we had collected up until that point. Over three weeks, we were able to physically monitor and conduct questionnaires on 184 filters (out of approximately 900) across the Bluefields neighborhoods of Central, Fatima, Pointeen, Punta Fria, San Pedro, and Santa Rosa. This number probably would have been higher but there were many people who were not home, who no longer used their filters, and who simply did not have them any longer. All of the information was compiled into a database including filter identification information, recipient name, contact information location, GPS coordinates, neighborhood, answers to the questionnaire, overall hygiene, number of parameters met, a link to a photograph of the individual or family, our observations, and notes regarding any attention that may be needed.
We interpreted the data to reveal the number of working filters meeting CAWST parameters (1-8).
CAWST’s eight parameters:
- No leaks
- Standing water depth 4-6cm
- Diffuser in good condition
- Top of sand is level
- Filter is used once a day (at least)
- Filter used for at least one month since install
- Water poured into filter is clear
- Flow rate ≦ 400 mL per minute
The most frequent number of parameters achieved was 6 with 42.2% of the filters having 6 parameters. The second most frequent parameter achieved was 5 with 31.4% of filters scoring a 5. Parameter 7 was third most common with 14.7% of filters meeting this. Whilst monitoring the filters we were able to obtain GPS locations for each household. The GPS location was used to populate a map of filter beneficiaries in Bluefields. Additionally, the GPS locations will better assist in locating filters for future maintenance or monitoring.
E. coli Testing & Trust Building
The original plan of action was to perform E. coli tests on 10% of the filters that met each of the eight parameters. It is also a major cause of stomach illnesses in the city of Blufields (during my last week I found this out the hard way). Finally, budget constraints limited us to one type of test (which, by the way, cost nearly $1,000 USD per kit). Due to time constraints and lack of filters meeting all 8 parameters, we chose 3 filters from San Pedro which met 7 parameters. The tests included the source water, the direct filtered water, and the filtered water container. Filter 1 had a positive test result for E. coli in source water but both direct filtered water and filtered water container came back negative. Filter 2 had a positive result for E. coli in source water but both filtered water and filtered water container came back negative. Filter 3 tested negative for E. coli in source water and filtered water container yet positive for E. coli in direct filtered water. This led us to believe that the test was compromised. A future retest is going to be accomplished on filter 3. The presence of E. coli in the source water and lack of E. coli in direct filtered water and filtered water container reaffirms biosand filter’s ability to remove E. coli. The test results reaffirmed belief in the integrity of the filters and instilled trust in users as the removal of E. coli is a good indication of the filter’s capability at operating effectively and in removing other pathogens.
Filter Recipients Care about their Filters
Overall, we noticed that the filter users were, predominately, proud of their filters and knowledgeable on the operations and maintenance of them. Their water filtering and hygiene was also commendable. Most recipients utilized approved and covered storage containers for their filtered water and used them solely for the purpose they were meant (they did not cross contaminate or compromise the container with unsafe water or other elements).
Collectively, the information and data will allow blueEnergy to do more than just keep track of the individual filters’ locations. The data will also allow the NGO to ensure filters are working correctly, it will identify strengths and limitations with specific filter models, allow technicians to repair, locate, and maintain existing filters, identify user behavior, and provide relevant information & training for future filter users.
The project was not nearly finished but is being continued through the blueEnergy Global Leadership Program until all filters have been monitored and all remediation actions have been taken.
Upon completion of data analysis I was required to give a presentation to the blueEnergy staff on my project, results, and recommendations. I am actually quite fond of presentations but this one was unique as it was to be delivered entirely in Spanish! Thanks to my good friends and translators, Fulvia and Roxanne, I was able to complete my presentation in (hopefully) good Spanish language. Everything went splendidly and the next evening was a nice going away party for the three of us who were departing. It was really bittersweet saying goodbye to the people and the Bluefields experience but the time to go had finally arrived. The next morning we flew into Managua and took a very brief trip to the Masaya market (I highly recommend this) where I purchased an obscene amount of beautifully, locally-handcrafted hammocks whilst still maintaining my baggage weight allowances (whoooo hooo)! We also made a trip through Granada (beautiful) and had lunch on an island. The flight home was relatively easy and I was so happy to see my waiting family once deplaning.
A Lasting Experience
The experience I had with blueEnergy, with the other fellows, and with the people in the country of Nicaragua, specifically the Caribbean Coast, is incomparable and will forever impact me in positive ways which were previously unknown. The people across the Caribbean Coast were the most inviting and open that I had ever had the pleasure of meeting (trust me on this – I had been to hundreds of houses). The children were so mature, well-mannered, friendly, and, of course, adorable. The friendships that were established and the knowledge gained will last a lifetime and, for this, I am thankful.