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Calgary-based biosand filter organization celebrating 30 years of providing clean water


The Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) has recorded 1.7 million biosand filters built in communities all over the world, thanks to the training the charity has provided since 2001.

Taryn Meyers, senior manager of marketing and engagement, says they're made with simple elements that can be found locally and consist mainly of concrete and filtered sand.

"You have a layer of sand that is specifically sifted so that it's the right size and the right mix," Meyers said.

"Then, you pour your water in and the water that goes in it actually creates a microbiological layer and that's the part that's special about it. This microbiological layer, it consumes all the bad organisms that would make you sick."

Meyers has travelled all over the world promoting the biosand filter and often hears how it's changing the lives of people struggling with safe drinking water.

Her last trip was to Kenya.

"When people have healthy water, their world changes, their life changes, kids are going to school, girls are staying in school, they're not spending three hours collecting water each and every day and then drinking it and it's making them sick," she said.

"When I asked a woman what she does now that she has safe water nearby, she told me that she has time to do laundry, and that her kids have a meal to eat at lunch when they come home from school."

Meyers says many people living in North America take accessible clean drinking water for granted.

But in 1993, a University of Calgary professor came up with a solution to help millions of people around the world have access to drinking water that won't make them sick.

"Dr. David Manz developed (the biosand filter) in 1993 at the University of Calgary," she said.

"One of the people that learned about it was our co-founder, Camille Dow Baker, and she started CAWST for the humanitarian distribution of this filter to make sure that it could get to the farthest reaches of the world where people need safe water the most."

For the first time in four years, CAWST is hosting workshops for people to learn how to build the biosand filter, so they can travel to other parts of the world and teach people how to make their own.

Mohammad Maarefi is going into his second year of chemical engineering at the University of Calgary.

He's representing a group called Project 90 that helps a number of NGOs with research projects.

He wants to learn how the biosand filter works.

"It was really the simplicity that caught me and actually, it is really what I wanted to do with chemical engineering," he said.

"I want to work in sustainability, so I already have a lot of past experience with solar, so just anything related to sustainability in general."

He's enjoying the hands-on learning.

"This is kind of what every engineer dreams to do in general," he said.

"Just get hands-on with a team of like-minded people. Everyone's doing it for the same cause, per se to help humanity. You get that vibe and it's just really, really fulfilling. It's awesome."

Jacob Amengor, also attending the University of Calgary as a master's student, received his first degree in water sanitation at the University of Ghana.

Now, he's in civil engineering, specializing in environmental engineering.

He's also the chair of the International Water Association's Young Water Professionals committee and wants to put the biosand filter to use in his home country.

"In Ghana, I started a social enterprise where we build solar mechanized water systems in rural, hard-to-reach communities so that they can have access to clean water," he said.

"And what I'm thinking that this will do for me is that there are some of these communities that have surface water, they have streams, they have rivers, so having this biosand filter in their house makes it easy for them to get water and then treat it with their biosand filter."

The 12 people enrolled in the four-day course will take what they've learned and soon help others around the world. Top Stories

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