Slipping out of my shoes, I step over the bare, concrete doorframe and into the modest home. I notice my surroundings—a single room with a concrete floor, a few baskets cast about filled with daily rations of rice and posho, a small clothesline hung displaying the day’s washing, and two young boys standing proudly next to their water filter, as if it was a trophy recently won.
These boys have welcomed me into their home to view their new “machine” that produces clean water for them to drink right at home. A decorative basket adorns the top of the filtration system, indicating it has become a permanent fixture in their family’s dwelling.
With it said that more than 1 billion people around the world do not have access to clean water, BioSand Water Filtration systems have rapidly become a part of many international charities’ approach to supplying clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands all around the world. Its ingenuity is simply that it brings clean water right into the home by purifying water collected from any contaminated source. With the main cost being the concrete to construct it, these filters are a cost-effective and, with proper training, sustainable solution for families without access to clean drinking water.
It has been discovered that these in-home water filters can effectively remove 95 to 99 percent of all contaminants that cause people to fall desperately ill. It is also proven to be effective in significantly lowering the number of diarrhea episodes, which leads to dehydration, malnutrition and, in its worst state, even death.
Having to walk sometimes 15 kilometers on average to access a more potable water source can sometimes have dangerous consequences, particularly for women and girls. Walking alone or in small groups deep into the countryside and away from home leaves these women and girls vulnerable to potential attacks and even rape. That is why keeping the distance it takes to retrieve water to a minimum—since water can be retrieved from any source for these filters—makes it a safer way for women and girls to access clean water.
The idea is simple. It starts with building a concrete cast and a metal mold, although plastic containers are increasingly being found to be effective as well. Then, by layering coarse grains with finer sand and water, an environment is created in the filtering process where useful biological activity occurs within a living film, built up over time. The water added to the filter is purified as it trickles through the layers of grain, sand and water, through a process of chemical and microbiological oxidation. This removes the impurities and also improves the color, taste and odor of the water.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity of spending several months in Kenya serving and learning from one of the many organizations that are making use of this technology—Samaritan’s Purse International Relief. Their dedicated and skilled Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team travel into remote and isolated villages throughout the coastal district of Kinango implementing these filtrations systems at the household-level as part of a larger water and sanitation approach.
I traveled with Abraham, Samaritan’s Purse’s WASH Coordinator, to one such village isolated hours away from the bustling port-town of Mombasa. Several hours in a hot 4×4 later, we had arrived. Quiet, peaceful. All I could hear was the sound of birds gently chirping and a slight breeze meandering through the tall brush. As we walked down a narrow path, we turned a corner and the sounds of cows grazing began to grow louder. We had reached the small lake—a large pond, really—that was the source for the community’s drinking water and watering hole for their livestock. Stagnant and algae-filled, this seemed like no place to collect water for anything more than nourishing a few plants at best, but this lake was the source of drinking water for the entire community.
Abraham bent down to collect a sample of the water. Quickly, the results showed just how dangerous this water was for human consumption.
We headed off to the construction site where families were being trained to construct their own filtration systems before transporting them to their homes. Seeing families working hard on their new filter and the finished filters lined up neatly in a row waiting to be transported, I couldn’t help but think what a privilege it was to see families being empowered through such a simple approach.
And with that, we were off again—this time, to deliver one of the finished filters to a family’s home. With the mother, father and children piled in the back of the truck along with their new filter, we headed off the main road and bumped along, brushing shoulders as we made our way to their compound. Arriving, we unloaded the filter and carried it into their home.
Watching clear water—free from impurities and disease—be poured into a cup for drinking is an amazing sight. Having access to clean water is one of the most basic of human rights, and yet it is constantly violated. But here it was being restored. I couldn’t help but think of how God restores us in the same way. Dirty and diseased, He cleans us, purifies us and restores us anew.
Abraham, quietly taking in the family’s excitement, leaned in my direction saying, “We don’t have the capacity to solve everyone’s problems, but we do as much as we can to help make people’s lives better.”
And that’s exactly what’s being done through this unique technology in lives across the globe—access is granted, disease is combated and lives are made better.
*Statistics and technical data retrieved from: biosandfilter.org