Account of the Spring 2009 Trip to Honduras

In spring of 2009, I was part of a group, sponsored by Rotary International, which traveled to Honduras to install BioSand water filters and build Justus stoves. This was my report back to Traverse City’s local Rotary Club:

So off we went to Honduras from May 8th to the 16th, . Quickly I want to answer a few questions that you might have.

What did we do?

24 people made up our team of Michiganders, one Canadian and 6 Hondurans installing BioSand Water filters and building Justus adobe stoves in a tiny village of 25 families. The water filter is a simple device that is basically a mini-septic field in a plastic tank, with graduated layers of gravel and sand the height of an average American 4-year-old. Justus stoves are simple structures made from a few metal pieces that we provided plus local supplies like sand, manure and slippery water. The stove has a fire box, a small oven and a cook top.

Will our work make a difference?

The Water Filter needs only annual maintenance and is monitored by International Aid, Rotary’s partner in this effort. It removes 99% of the bacteria in the local water that breeds waterborne illnesses. The adobe stoves were built to suit the height of the cook of the household and were vented by chimney through the roof versus the foot high structures sitting on the dirt floor with no vent at all to the outside. The leading cause of death of children under 5 at this point is respiratory infection from inhalation of the toxic smoke from indoor cooking. A further benefit is that the fire box requires only 1/3 the amount of wood previously burned thus alleviating the current problem of deforestation that leads to erosion and the debilitating heat evaporating moisture from the earth.

What’s left to do?

Sanitation. Of the 25 residences, only 7 or 8 have toilets (God knows how they were flushed) but that indicates a certain quality of life deficit—they need latrines. Hopefully that will be scheduled soon and most everyone in our group voiced that they would love to return to help with that. The people there truly won our hearts.

Is Rotary making a difference?

Yes, Rotarians in Pedro San Sulla are excellent partners. They are a small club, very active and 100% Paul Harris Fellows. Besides being the “feet on the ground” for BioSand Filters, they are supporting an Eco Farm which is a collection of experimental projects focused on zero waste and the simplest of processes. A most productive one was capturing gas produced as a by-product of composting and using it for 4 hours of cooking per day.

So was this trip purely altruistic?

Absolutely not. If I may paraphrase Desmond TuTu’s article in the April issue of The Rotarian Magazine–he praised Rotary for a tradition of being there for the vulnerable—that the war against terrorism will never be won as long as there are conditions that make people desperate. He added that the best form of self-interest is to care for others.

That’s what Rotarians do and it was an honor to be a part of it. Thanks for the opportunity of a lifetime.