One thing I love about living in Guatemala is the opportunity to see and hear what people are doing to make an impact. Sometimes, that’s in my school. Sometimes, it’s in a community. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a factory just outside of Antigua. Through a few different connections, I went with a group of both gringos and Guatemalans to visit the Ecofiltro factory. Ecofiltro makes in home water purification units – we have one. It’s great. No more big plastic jugs of water, no more running out of water two days before the water truck pulls up. I knew a bit about how Ecofiltro worked, but not much.
When we got to the factory, we learned about the history of Ecofiltro and the science of how they make the filters (sawdust, clay, activated carbon). We toured the plant and heard how Ecofiltro is having a hard time keeping shelves stocked because the demand is high. We ended our tour in the lab where Ecofiltro is working on new technology. This is where things got interesting for me.
First, we learned about a new technology which will make it possible for Ecofiltro to ship around the world. The current design is cumbersome to ship, so it stays in Central America. As the owner was sharing, I felt like I was part of something special – he really believes this new technology will solve the problem of contaminated water and the associated illnesses in the world. He talked about how wells alone can’t do it – what if it gets contaminated? He shared stories of seeing chlorinated purification systems being used to wash clothes because the people in the village didn’t like the taste of the chlorinated water – they preferred Coke. I felt like, 10 years down the road when friends in Africa, India, Asia, South America, are using the Ecofiltro, I could say, “I was there. I knew about this.”
(Lesson learned – make people feel like they’re part of your story and they’ll be your biggest fans!)
Second, we learned about how Ecofiltro distributes. They do not give filters away for free. They’ve seen that when people invest in their filters they take pride in them and feel dignified for being able to provide clean water for their families. Representatives from Ecofiltro network with village leaders, meet with villages, set up payment plans (the filter, in total with the recipient, costs about $40), and follow up with the clients. They bring Ecofiltros to village schools so that kids will go home and tell their parents about this delicious gift of clean water.
(Lesson learned – sustainability without dependence = dignity and transformed communities.)
If you’re in Guatemala City, buy an Ecofiltro – purchases of the clay and ceramic units help offset the cost of the plastic units used in the villages. Currently, Ecofiltro is focusing on villages. My hope is that they will begin to network with community leaders in urban slums and can replicate the program in the city. If there’s one thing I’m sick of, it’s seeing a 2 year old baby walking around with Coke and rotten teeth.
Thanks for the inspiration, Ecofiltro!