At Water Missions International, our aim is to be a best in class Christian engineering ministry that transforms lives through sustainable safe water solutions. We understand the importance in clean, safe water, which is why we’ve put in place the best possible practices to filter and treat the water in the communities we’ve worked with. A clear glass of water can be deceptive, which is why we always test for the dangerous contaminants the human eye cannot see.

Collecting Water Samples

Our founder George Greene III collects a raw water sample for testing.

There are three different types of water contaminants: suspended solids, dissolved solids, and microbial contamination. Suspended solids are usually dirt and debris, and they are the reason that the water might appear cloudy or look dirty. This type of contaminant is commonly found in surface water sources like river and lakes. We filter out these types of contaminants at the beginning of our water treatment process since dirt can complicate the disinfection process. Dissolved solids refer to salt and minerals, possibly also chemical, contaminants—things that dissolve in water, such as salt, lead, or arsenic.

The final type of contaminates are microbial. These are always our biggest problem and our primary concern. We find them almost always in surface water sources. They’re less likely to be found in ground water—water from boreholes or wells—but if the well was constructed incorrectly or if a disaster occurs, these sources can still be contaminated.

There are three types of microbial contaminates. The first are protozoa. These small organisms enter the water as cysts, or eggs. They move into our bodies when we drink contaminated water. The cysts end up in our intestines, where the organisms make their home. A common example of protozoa is Giardia. Fortunately, protozoa are big enough that they can easily be removed by proper filtration.

Bacteria, the second type of microbial contaminants, can’t be removed by filtration. They’re too small to get stopped by that process, so we need to kill them by treating the water. Fortunately, when we treat the water with chlorine it’s easy to kill life-threatening bacteria like Cholera and rend the water safe. Chlorine also has the power to inactivate the third type of microbial contaminant—viruses like Ebola.

Ensuring Water Quality

We use different strip tests to monitor chlorine levels and check for contaminants.

Once we’ve filtered and treated the water, we always test it to make sure it’s safe. Our technicians and engineers are familiar with the best ways to check that the water is safe, and they teach these methods to safe water system operators in every community to make sure that the water is checked regularly.

We use a variety of equipment to test the safeness of the water that comes out of our systems. We take a small sample of water and run it through a turbidity meter, which checks for suspended solids by scattering light through the water to check for dirt. We check for the dissolved solids with a series of paper strip tests. We dip these strips into the water and, based on if the strip changes color, we can tell what minerals are present. We can perform the same test with a colorimeter test meter, which our staff will also use, by adding different reagents to water samples and checking to see if the water changes color. The final way we check for dissolved solids is to use a conductivity meter to test whether or not the water can conduct electricity, allowing us to know if the water is too salty for human consumption.

The best and simplest way to check for microbiological contaminants is to check our chlorine levels. We don’t test for protozoa because they are stopped by the filtration process, and the chlorine would kill them regardless. Viruses like Ebola we test for on a case by case basis, since the testing involved is a bit more involved and specialized depending on the virus. But by regularly checking our chlorine levels, we can know with confidence that the water is free from bacteria. We test for total coliform bacteria, commonly found in all water. The presence of total coliform bacteria in the water after it’s gone through the system immediately alerts our staff that there is not enough chlorine being added to the water.  We can monitor chlorine levels by using strip tests on the water, and we can also use the red color wheel test you may have seen your lifeguard perform at your swimming pool. We also check for E-Coli because this is a big red flag for fecal contamination. We test for both of these at the safe time.

Petri Dishes

The petri dish on the right shows the bacteria present in the untreated water. The culture on the left shows a lack of bacteria in the treated water.

The best way to reassure safe water recipients that their water is now safe is with a membrane filter test. One of our staff will collect a sample of the water and place it in a sterile container. Back at our in-country program office, they will run a 100 ml sample through a .45 micron filter. They’ll put this sample in a petri dish with M-Coliblue, a food source for bacteria, and then incubate the petri dish for 24 hours at 35 degrees Celsius. If there were bacteria in the water sample, they will have grown enough that our staff can visually see it when they check the dish later.

When you compare the petri dishes of a community’s untreated water with the water from their safe water solution, it’s easily for community members to see the difference. They don’t want the petri dish with things growing on it. They want the clear one, and that’s the water they deserve—clean, safe, and healthy.

At the beginning of each safe water project, the community elects a safe water committee. This committee manages each safe water solution, from upkeep to finances. Our in-country staff work with them throughout the construction phase of the project, teaching them about financial sustainability, record keeping, and responsible management.

By the time a solution is commissioned, the safe water committee has established its own guiding constitution, financial plan, and a clear and transparent process for setting water fees. When the committee is ready to take on their new responsibilities, our staff hand over management of the safe water solution, continuing to support the safe water committee with follow up visits and support for at least the next year. Support can range from everything from mechanical repairs to safe water promotion or even crisis mediation.

Safe Water In Bugoto

Thanks to the management of the safe water committee, the children of Bugoto, Uganda will grow up with safe water access.

In the case of the safe water solution in Bugoto, Uganda, our staff needed to do the latter. One year after their safe water solution was commissioned and officially handed over to the safe water committee, trouble was brewing. This fishing community had embraced their new safe water. “Those of us who are using safe water are happy and moving forward in life,” one community member smiled when asked about the solution. “We are doing well and looking healthy.”

But while community members loved the safe water solution, the safe water committee had come under scrutiny. A group of young, college-educated men were “making a lot of noise” in the community and accusing water committee members of “eating” and misusing project funds (i.e. stealing). The ringleader of the group had even called our office in Uganda and argued that he was more qualified to be on the water committee than the current members because he had a college degree. He went as far as trying to get local government representatives to replace the safe water committee.

Safe Water Bugoto

Water Missions International designed and installed a customized safe water solution for Bugoto.

Because we’d been supporting the community of Bugoto and working with their safe water committee, we knew that they were not misusing any money. We feared this conflict had broken out because this individual had seen the success of the project and, realizing that they were collecting and banking money, wanted in on it.

When the water committee asked our staff for help resolving this conflict, we suggested that they hold a public audit of their financial books. The safe water committee invited three independent auditors, including the individual accusing them of stealing, to review their financial records. At a public meeting, the auditors independently reported the project’s monthly water distribution and income totals and detailed expenses (down to the detail of purchasing a padlock) for every month, as identified from the committee’s records. All entries were verified with certified bank statements.

Conflict Resolution

At a public audit, the safe water committee of Bugoto proved they were responsibly managing the project.

At the end of the meeting, the water committee was found to be missing ~$40 USD. The water committee members said that this was a result of minor errors in their records and they offered to pay the difference out of their own pockets. The meeting concluded with the accuser making a public apology and stating that he believed the water committee to be trustworthy. It was amazing to see the conflict resolved so smoothly.

We praise God that in the midst of such accusations, peaceful resolutions came to this community. The safe water committee in Bugoto continues to do well, managing their safe water solution responsibly. In fact, as of September of last year, Bugoto had the highest cost recovery of all of our safe water projects in Uganda, earning enough income to cover day-to-day expenses and put money in the bank to replace the solar pump, solar panels, and all water treatment equipment at the end of its lifespan.

Safe water has the capacity to bring enormous economic change to communities. It can free people from the costly expense of medical treatments for waterborne illness. Often, we work with communities who’ve been spending their hard-earned money on costly bottled water. They know that the water coming out of their wells is unsafe, but they cannot afford to use bottled water for all of their daily needs. Without affordable safe water, they have no way to truly break free of the cycle of illness perpetuated by unsafe water.

Financial Sustainability Meeting

The safe water committee is responsible for maintaining the project’s financial sustainability.

On Rote Island, Indonesia, Water Missions International safe water solutions are making safe water affordable at last. In the early stages of every water project, a community agrees on an affordable price for safe water that everyone will pay. The funds go into a savings account for long-term maintenance of the safe water solution. Now, in communities like Loundalusi, safe water is available at a reasonable price.

“I was planning to use this water because it is useful, especially for our health. But also this water can help us economize our money. We will not need to buy bottled water—which is expensive—anymore,” one community member told us happily.

Other community members of Loundalusi also rejoiced about the affordability of their new safe water. “I think this is good for us going forward, because with this we can economize our money. If we buy bottled water, we must spend 10,000 Rupiah (~86 cents USD), but the water from the system is only 3,000 Rupiah (~26 cents USD), so it will be an asset especially to our health,” explained Sarlota.

Commissioning The System

Water Missions International staff and community leaders celebrating the new system.

Since they celebrated the opening of their system in June, the residents of Loundalusi will finally have access to affordable safe water. “We didn’t think about our health before, but I think now we will in the future,” smiled Yustine. Affordable safe water is just one more step in transforming lives.

A month ago I traveled to Honduras to capture the stories of various communities. We visited five projects: spending time with the staff, meeting people, and staying the night in one of the rural communities. The joy and gratitude of the people were inspirational as they showed a lot of pride in their water projects and shared the impact in their families’ lives.

Safe Water Solution

A Safe Water Operator with her community’s safe water solution

Many communities in Honduras have taps to their homes, faucets where they can get water. But when you follow the faucet to its source, the water comes straight from the river, never going through any kind of treatment. While often clear, it’s very contaminated. Continue Reading…

Water Missions International started with invention. When our founders, George and Molly Greene, couldn’t find an affordable water treatment system to send to Honduras to help with disaster response efforts following Hurricane Mitch, they built their own. Ever since, we’ve focused on building our own solutions to solve the global water crisis.

Our experience has taught us that not every solution works for all problems. The type of water treatment that bests suits a community in Honduras probably won’t be identical to what works best in Indonesia or Uganda. For this reason, we customize each project.

Safe Water Collection

A child collects safe water from a chlorinator

A Water Missions International team will go into a community and perform an assessment. Our engineers look at the community’s water needs, geography, and economy, among other things. They’ll design a solution to the community’s lack of safe water. If there isn’t a viable water source in the community, such as a river or lake, our team will work with the community to drill boreholes to serve as the main water source. If such a source already exists, our team will perform tests to determine what level of filtration and treatment will be required.

Depending on the water source, our engineers will install a treatment system. If the water just needs to be treated, but not filtered for dirt or other contaminants, they might install a chlorinator to purify the water with chlorine. If the water needs more than just chlorine to make it safe and potable, they might install our Living Water™ Treatment System, which filters and then chemical disinfects water. Even the power source for the system is customizable—either solar or diesel fuel—depending on what best suits the community.

Tapstand

Community members can collect safe water from tapstands such as this one outside of the enclosure housing this community’s treatment system.

A safe water solution doesn’t end with making the water safe to drink. A community isn’t going to be transformed by safe water if they still have to spend most of the day walking to get it, so part of the solution involves making the water accessible. Depending on the geography and layout of the community, our engineers might have the water piped from the treatment system to tapstands around the community, or they may build an enclosure in a centralized location where the system operator can distribute water.

The possibilities are endless based on each community’s needs. Our goal is to find the best way to make safe water easily available. We work closely with each community to make sure all needs are being met. Every person and community is unique, so their safe water solution should be too.

Since the outbreak of cholera in 2010, nearly everyone you speak to in Haiti knows someone who has contracted the deadly illness. At the Haiti Evangelical Christian Mission church, they listed out the names when asked. “Mrs. Elien and her son both were in hospital with cholera,” the pastor began. “Rosemarie and her two sons had cholera. Ms. Maude’s father died in the hospital with cholera…”

The list went on and on. “We still have cholera in the community and if we count only the people we know, at least 25 have died from this terrible disease,” said Pastor Saint-Clair Destine. “We live with a constant fear of what may happen to us and our children and elderly because we do not have good water to use for our needs.”

Collecting Unsafe Water

Children used to collect unsafe water from handpumps like this one near the church.

When Pastor Destine first reached out to Water Missions International asking for help for his community, this fear of cholera permeated the remote community. The local clinic was powerless to help those sick without safe water to give patients to drink, and the community didn’t fully understand the threat of cholera that hung over them.

“The population here does not know how the cholera is spread and we have very little education about the prevention of such diseases,” the pastor admitted. Despite this ignorance, he saw a way towards a better life. “I want to ask you to do your best to help me educate my people about all the waterborne diseases and to have clean water they can trust for their needs,” he told us. “The population looks to me to help them and find the answer for their fears, and I try my best to do this because the Lord teaches me what I must do as the spiritual leader for them.”

Water Missions International responded to Pastor Destine’s request for help. When our team first approached the community about the potential of a safe water project, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Water Missions International engineers quickly got to work designing a customized safe water solution for the community’s water needs.

Proper Handwashing

While the safe water solution was constructed, WMI staff lead workshops where they taught proper handwashing techniques and other health and hygiene best practices.

Thanks to Pastor Destine, our team knew that for the project to be a true success they needed to educate the community on how unsafe water can spread diseases like cholera. All throughout the construction phase of the project, our staff held workshops where they instructed community members on the best health and hygiene practices as well as explaining how diseases like cholera spread.

At the safe water solution commissioning celebration, Pastor Destine saw the hope he had for his community become a reality. His friends and neighbors finally understood what caused cholera, and the importance of good health and hygiene habits. When he looked out over the church yard, people were no longer getting unsafe water from the ground pump. Instead, his community was queued up at the new tapstand, excitedly waiting to taste safe water for the first time.

Safe Water Stand

Now children in Pastor Destine’s community can collect safe water.

It’s been a year since the community of Brisas del Monga, Honduras celebrated the commissioning of their safe water solution, which has given safe water access to roughly 500 people. Community members are still celebrating the gift of safe water and the impact it has had on their community.

Safe water in Honduras

Community members can pick up safe water to meet all their daily water needs from a central distribution point.

“Many people are happy in our community because now we’re drinking safe water,” a community member, Emilio, said. He explained how now, with safe water access, the people of Brisas del Monga are more aware of the dangers of unsafe water. “Now we don’t drink raw water from the faucet because only water from the system is safe water.” The community of Brisas del Monga trusts the water from their safe water solution, especially after they received outside assurance that it was free of disease. “The health department came and did a water sample test,” Emilio recalled. “The result was 100% safe water.”

The community saw for themselves the difference in the water. The health of community members has changed drastically. Now water-related diseases have become a thing of the past. The community’s health has, in the words of one member, “become excellent.”

Collecting safe water

Safe water has changed the health of this community.

Another community member, Dilcia, sees the safe water as the greatest gift they have ever received. “Our community is really poor, but now we’re drinking safe water,” she happily told our staff. “Thank you for this great project. I hope that people from different places can get help like us!”

The impact of safe water has been so great that word of its benefits have spread to others nearby. “People come from far places to get safe water,” the system operator told us proudly, “because they know this water is good and we are very happy for it.”

It’s been several years since Water Missions International and the Pentair Foundation first joined forces to transform the lives of the people of Colon, Honduras, and we’re proud to continue this life saving work today in communities like Brisas del Monga. Safe water has the potential to forever change a community, eliminating water-related diseases.

Imagine being sick and going to a hospital to get better, only to contract water-related illness from a glass of water that your nurse hands you to take with your medication. A situation like this is unthinkable in the USA. Hospitals are a place of healing, not the place where you could get worse. But for the patients and staff of Kapiri Mission Hospital, this was their risky reality.

“The water situation used to be pathetic,” Dr. Sister Kanguade, the director of the hospital, lamented. “One time Health Surveillance Assistants took some water samples from our hospital taps to test at a government laboratory. The water tests showed bacteria. We doubted the results, because we have been drinking the same water for years but lived.”

Safe water tapstand

Now the staff’s family member can collect safe water from tapstands at the hospital.

A group of Rotarians had been working with the hospital, donating desperately needed wheel chairs. While visiting the hospital, the Rotarians immediately realized the dire water situation Kapiri Mission Hospital faced and reached out to Water Missions International’s office in Malawi.

A WMI team traveled from their nearby office and tested the water, discovering the same bacteria as the government lab. They explained their test results to the hospital staff and pointed to the many patient records with cases of diarrhea to illustrate how the water was impacting their patients’ health. Eager for clean, safe water, the hospital asked WMI and Rotary International for help.

WMI studied the hospital’s needs and infrastructure in order to customize a safe water solution for the hospital’s staff and patients, while Rotary International worked to procure funding for the project. With funds in place, WMI staff installed two chlorination systems that treated the local well water, rendering it safe for consumption.

Safe Water Operator

Safe water system operator Simon stands next to the hospital’s chlorination system.

Now safe water flows in Kapiri Mission Hospital, providing doctors with safe water for surgical operations and nurses confidence in the water that they give their patients to drink.

“Ever since Water Missions International helped us with the safe water provision, cases of water related illnesses have decreased at the hospital. We used to have many patients suffering from diarrheal diseases before we were introduced to chlorinated water, but with the availability of safe water we no longer experience all these illnesses,” explained an overjoyed staff member Simon. “We are all very happy with the safe water as it is improving our health and well-being at the hospital. Now we can look forward to healthy lives.”

Water Missions 101

Anna Nodtvedt —  July 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

A lot has happened over the last year at Water Missions International, especially on this blog. We wanted to take the time to round up a few posts for you. These posts break down different facets of who we are and what we do.

1. Our Most Frequently Asked Question: “So do you guys do wells?”

More often than not, the first question people ask when we tell them about our work has something to do with wells. In fact, it seems there is a widely held assumption that a protected well fit with a sturdy hand pump is the most effective (or at least the most feasible) water supply solution for rural communities around the world. This is often the concept we see advertised or expressed by aid agencies. Developing world? No water? They need a well… Click here to read more

2. How Community Water Partnerships Work

What I am about to share might surprise you, so please, continue reading for my explanation. We at Water Missions International are benefiting greatly from the people who live in the communities where we have installed water systems and latrines. From them, we have learned how to do our jobs better. Click here to read more

3. WMI Explained: In-country Programs

You’ve heard us talk about Water Missions International (WMI) in-country programs and staff members around the world, but what does that mean? Let us explain. Click here to read more

4. Disaster Response 101

When a disaster strikes, aid organizations around the world quickly mobilize to bring supplies and help with recovery efforts. However, these actions are rarely as simple as they might seem. Click here to read more

5. Haiti: Transitioning Disaster Recovery to Community Building

After the devastating earthquake of 2010, Haiti struggled to rebuild. Crumbled houses and institutions led people to flock to open spaces to set up camp. Such overcrowded areas lack adequate sanitation and water systems, presenting an enormous threat for water-related illnesses to rapidly spread. Cholera, a deadly disease spread primarily through drinking water, did just this. Dauphine, a community located along the shores of the river Artibonite, was at the epicenter of the outbreak. Click here to read more

6. How To Build A Healthy Latrine

We’ve shared about what goes into our community-based projects and disaster response approach, so in honor of the beginning of this newest project we thought we would to break down how we build sustainable sanitation. Click here to read more

7. Transforming the Business of Water: The TradeWater Program

You’d be hard-pressed to find an engineered system that wasn’t designed, at least in some aspect, to protect against human misuse. It doesn’t matter how the structure/device/material/process is supposed to work; if it isn’t “fool proof” people will find a “creative” use for it – that is, if they don’t break it first. It’s for this reason that engineers are often compelled to venture outside of their comfort zones and think like sociologists and psychologists in order to better understand the customers for whom they are designing. When it comes to the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) sector, the technical minds have actually had to pitch a figurative tent and take up permanent residence outside of that comfort zone…Click here to read more

8. The Importance of Hygiene

Water Missions International has seen first hand the difference safe water access can make, but we’ve come to understand that this provision is only the first step to a healthier life. Click here to read more

9. eMpower = Solar Energy Charging Mobile Phones

Sustainability is not a word that we take lightly. At Water Missions International, we’re committed to it. We also think that the best solutions for providing sustainable access to safe water are yet to come. This is why we are committed to never settling for a one-size-fits-all solution, and why we’re committed to developing new ideas in order to better meet the needs of communities without access to safe water. Click here to read more

10. Back to School: Safe Water and Its Role in Education

In the United States, parents rarely have to worry about whether a child’s basic needs will be met during the school day. They have the luxury of knowing that their child will spend the day learning everything from the ABCs to Shakespeare’s sonnets, and the facilities can provide them with food, water, and adequate sanitation. Click here to read more

Have any questions about these posts or anything else? Let us know in the comments below!

This afternoon Water Missions International was privileged to host Texas Governor Rick Perry for a roundtable discussion with local Charleston, S.C. non-profit leaders.

“We are honored that Gov. Perry will be taking a tour of WMI headquarters to learn more about our work toward addressing the global water crisis, ” said Water Missions International CEO and Co-Founder, George C. Greene III yesterday when announcing the event. “WMI, one of the world’s leading resources for safe water and sanitation solutions, is grateful for the opportunity to share our approach with leaders such as Gov. Perry.”

Perry & Greene

Gov. Perry at Water Missions International’s headquarters with founder George Greene III

During his time at WMI headquarters, Gov. Perry had the opportunity to tour the facility and meet with staff and volunteers. He listened intently as founders George and Molly Greene explained the how they founded their organization and how they provide those in need with safe water access.

After meeting the volunteers working in the production facility, Gov. Perry got to sit down with leaders from area nonprofits to discuss issues of importance to the group, such as the protection of tax incentives for charitable giving and the government’s role in combating poverty.

Gov Perry Shaking Hands

Gov. Perry took the time to tour our production facility and meet with our hardworking volunteers.

“This is a great opportunity for Gov. Perry to see first-hand what is possible when a community and the local government are able to invest in the success of an area non-profit,” Greene stated. “Because of the strong support WMI has received over the years, we can now combine contributions from local and civic organizations, individuals, and corporate partners, with funds from international relief agencies, such as UNICEF, to have a greater, and ultimately a more sustainable impact on communities world-wide.”On behalf of all the local nonprofits who participated in the roundtable, we’d like to thank Gov. Perry for taking the time to come out to WMI’s headquarters and speaking with us.