Interact Club goes globalPublished 9:01pm Thursday, January 12, 2012
As its first international project, Union High School Interact Club will be raising money to buy BioSand filters for the Dominican Republic, whose plentiful water is often contaminated by fecal and animal waste. Infrastructure is in poor condition. Frequent power failures cause suspect water quality.
Five thousand children die each day — one every 15 seconds — from diseases caused by unsafe water. Rotary is a natural player to solve a sanitation problem of such magnitude with 1.25 million volunteers across the globe.
Jonesville Interact donated $900, White Pigeon Interact, $660 and has supported the project more than four years. Hastings and Grand Ledge Interact Clubs have also been involved.
District 5170 Interact in the Silicon Valley of California played a “big role” in establishing a distribution center with a $50,000 check for plastic BioSand filters.
After school Thursday, Interact listened to “The Water Boys,” Charles Jesperson of the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor and Terry Allen of the Rotary Club of Lakeshore, who related, as they have in 225 previous presentations, how the project has mushroomed from three clubs and $5,000 eight years ago in 2004 to $2 million today. Rotarian magazine in August 2009 devoted 16 pages.
Filters also go to Haiti, Honduras, Ghana, Kenya and the Philippines.
The project went districtwide to 58 Rotary clubs in 2005 and by 2006 earned Michigan’s top volunteer award. It has expanded beyond service clubs to schools and churches and partners with District 4060 in the 60-club Dominican Republic for “boots on the ground.”
“When you live next to 20 percent of the fresh water in the world” in the Great Lakes, “It’s hard to imagine other people are not as fortunate,” said Allen, who has made five trips to the Dominican Republic.
Four days after installing a filter, five feet of sewage-filled water washed over the neighborhood, removing any trace of the house. “No one knows what became of the family we helped. Such is life in the third world.”
“We leverage funds raised with matching grants. Typically, we’re able to double every donation we receive,” though there was a four-fold boost recently with the Rotary Foundation collaborating wit the U.S. Agency for International Development. “In addition, we make use of the support of other organizations, like the U.S. Navy with Operation Handclasp to distribute and install BioSand filters in ports of call around the world. Saving the lives of kids is what it’s all about.”
Interact, led by President Lauren Krueger and advised by Rotarian and DUHS Principal Paul Hartsig, learned how filters used in the Rotary District 6360 Children’s Safe Water Project are available in concrete and plastic.
Each BioSand filter costs about $120. Interact already raised $100 selling holiday candy canes and next will tackle pumping gas to pump up their treasury. The club was chartered in October.
Besides teachers and Dowagiac Rotarians who attended the program in the media center, there were also some Niles Rotarians looking to start their own Interact Club.
Sand-filter technology has been used for 150 years to simply, but effectively, purify dirty water that is a leading cause of death in the third world.
Such filters almost entirely remove organisms known as pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, cysts, helminths and worse.
Organic material is trapped at close to the surface of the sand, forming a biological layer. Over a period of one to three weeks, micro-organisms colonize this sector of the filter, where organic food and oxygen derived from the water abounds.
These micro-organisms consume bacteria and other pathogens found in the water, providing highly effective water treatment.
In addition, pathogens are removed as food scarcity and less than optimal temperatures kill them. They collect at the sand surface. Between uses, a layer of water is maintained above the sand at all times.
The filter is a container layered with water, fine sand, coarse sand and gravel at the bottom. Water is poured in the top as needed, with a diffuser plate above the sand bed dissipating the initial water force.
Traveling slowly through the sand bed, clean water passes through several layers of gravel before collecting in a pipe at the base for the user to collect.
Concrete filter shells can be made from materials readily available in the third world, but weigh 150 to 200 pounds. Production is slow, then a heavy filter needs to be transported. Plastic shells require equipment and technology investments typically only affordable in the developed world.
Michigan companies such as Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids and Dow Chemical in Midland help develop the HydrAid Filter available from the Safe Water Team, a 501 c 3 non-profit organization.
Central Michigan University helps with logistics and marketing.
The plastic process enables one mold to turn out 600 to 1,000 filter shells that weigh less than 10 pounds per day. They can be shipped 2,250 at at time.