Wrapping up

So, I’m writing this post from the Starbucks in the Lima airport during my 12 hour layover here before my flight to Atlanta. I’m kind of in a state of disbelief that I’m on my way back to the U.S. and that my project is, for the time being, over…I’ve gotten so used to living in Puno that NOT being there is just weird. Like, I should be in the office right now, joking around with Javier and the girls, playing with the cats, and making sure our meeting for the next day hasn’t been cancelled. One thing I’ve noticed about traveling to a foreign country for a large chunk of time is that going to the foreign country and getting used to living there is usually easier and less strange than coming home after all that time. Maybe it’s because I expect my lifestyle in the foreign country to be radically different, or that I don’t really expect anything at all in particular and so am open to all of the new people and experiences that come my way, but then when I go home, I expect everything to be the same as it was before…and maybe it is, but the thing is, I’M different, so it feels weird. And sure, everyone asks, ‘How was Peru?’ or, ‘How was Argentina?’ (etc.) but as anyone who’s traveled abroad knows, you can’t even come close to describing the incredible things you’ve seen and done, and the ways in which your journey has impacted you, and moreover, people don’t REALLY want to hear about all that–they’ll stop pretending to be polite and interested after a while, I’ve found. Which is why it’s important that you make friends in the country you travel to, because they’ll understand 🙂

Anyway, so yeah, I’m in the Lima airport, and already I miss Puno like crazy. In particular, I miss the people–over the course of three and a half months, I’ve come to count the girls at Suma Marka and Javier and his family as very close friends, and I’ll certainly never forget them. I definitely would have been completely clueless and lost without their help with my project, but beyond that, they made my stay in Puno very comfortable and a lot of fun. They made me promise to come back, and I absolutely plan to as soon as I can!

As for my project, everything went as planned over the last week, and I’m really happy with the way I left things. Rocío and I installed the pilot filters in all of the communities that we had planned to, and the health center workers were all really helpful with setting up the filters and agreeing to continue community education about the filters and the importance of drinking clean water. Rocío will go back to the communities in a few months’ time to see how the community has responded to the filters.

The final meeting in Pucará was successful, as well. Rocío and I met with a group of regidores (local government authorities) who were interested in the project. The meeting served more than anything as a way to establish contact with people who will hopefully help out in the future as things progress.

As I’ve written before, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but now that so many people are on board with the project, I’m really optimistic about it. It’s certainly been established that the need for the filters, or some method of water purification, is there, and now we’ve established that the market for the filters exists as well. In many of the communities we visited, people asked us where they could buy a filter for their families right away. For the time being, people do have the option of ordering filters from the Urubamba factory, but as the price makes that option an inaccessible one for many, we hope that before too long they’ll have the option of getting them from Pucará.

So, I guess that’s it, for now. Hopefully, the momentum for this project will keep increasing, and there will be more good new to report within the next few years. Until then, thank you so much for reading, and I’ll be joining most of you in the U.S. soon!


Hi! So, the last two weeks have been filled with community meetings throughout the region. For once, almost everything has been running according to schedule, so we’ve really been getting a lot accomplished, which feels great. All of the meetings of the past two weeks have been in the provinces of Huancané and Ilave, mainly because after meeting with DIRESA representatives from nearly all of the regional provinces in Puno, the reps from Huancané and Ilave were the ones who followed up with us. Ilave is about an hour and a half east of Puno, and Huancané is a little over two hours to the northwest. Both areas are, on the whole, very poor and many communities, particularly the rural ones, have no access to clean drinking water.

First, I went with Laura, another Suma Marka member (Rocío was in Puerto Maldonado for the weekend on a trip with the biology department of the University of Puno), to Accaso, a community about forty minutes from Ilave. Attendance at these meetings always varies, but it’s usually around 10-20 people per meeting. When we got to the municipal building of Accaso, where the day’s meeting was to be held, we realized that nearly 200 people were already there!  Since the purpose of the meetings is to get an idea of the particular water needs within the community and its receptiveness to the filters, such a large group wasn’t particularly ideal…But, it’s not as if we were going to tell people to leave, so we proceeded with our presentation and tried to ask/answer questions as best we could.

Towards the end of the meeting, someone stood up and pointed out that most people in the community were very poor, and since we were from an NGO and surely had plenty of money, couldn’t we just give a filter to each family for free? This question has come up more often than not througout the various community meetings. I think that people assume that because we’re from an NGO from Puno, and especially because I’m a foreigner, we must have lots of funding. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. So, I have to tell them that while it would be great if we could supply everyone with a filter, we simply can’t do that. At least, we’ll be installing filters in the health centers, and possibly in the schools and municipal buildings.

The next week, Rocío and I went to Huijpata, a small, isolated town that’s about an hour and a half beyond the small city/large town of Huancané. And when I say isolated, I mean REALLY isolated. When I thought that Putina, the town we went to the week before, was isolated, I didn’t realize just how far we’d be going to get to Huijipata. We went to the town in the Huancané DIRESA’s truck, and it seemed like the road we took to get there was hardly ever used by other cars. After a certain point, the road was really narrow, curvy, and rocky, and I was just glad the rainy season hadn’t started yet, because then things really could have been a mess. But, we made it to Huijipata just fine, and once we got there we met up with the local health center workers, who had set up the meeting for us. One of the nurses told us that the power there had been out for a week, but there wasn’t really anything they could do about it. Also, though the town seemed small, turns out it was rather large, at least territorially–the people who lived on the farthest outskirts of Hujipata were a 1.5 hour walk away from the health center. And, as the nurse informed us, none of these people had cars, and maybe a handful had motorcycles that they could use for transportation. So basically, imagine being sick, and having to walk an hour and a half (in a sometimes-brutally cold and windy climate) to be able to get medicine or see a doctor.

Anyway, we went to our meeting, which turned out to be scheduled with the elementary school students. Not what we were expecting, but hey, the last time we met with students (in Ticani Pampa), the meeting turned out really well. And ultimately, this time was no different. We also went to the colegio (high school) and did a small presentation there. Just like in Ticani Pampa, the students were all really attentive and seemed interested in what we had to say. We had also brought posters which we had made and printed the week before which listed various waterborne illnesses and their symptoms and explained several methods of water purification (including, but not limited to, the ceramic filter), and we gave all of the students posters to bring home to their families. After the meetings, the nurse showed us two of the community’s water sources, which were full of trash and dead insects and other nasty-looking stuff. It was pretty horrifying and I’ll try to upload a picture (although sometimes wordpress doesn’t let me, so we’ll see…).

Two days later, Rocío and I went to Tiqui Tiqui, another community in the Huancané area. Tiqui Tiqui is located on the same road that leads to Huijipata, but is only about forty minutes from Huancané. This time, though, we weren’t able to use the DIRESA truck, so we had to take a public combi, or a 10-15 person van. But first, we had to take a combi from Puno to Juliaca (about an hour), then another combi from Juliaca to Huancané (about an hour and a half), and THEN once we found the combi that went from Huancané to Tiqui Tiqui, we had to wait for it to fill up before we could leave, which took well over an hour. Eventually, we arrived to Tiqui Tiqui, and luckily, the womens’ group who we were to have the meeting with was running behind schedule, and so we got there just in time. Rocío explained to me that the group was part of Programa Juntos, a national government program that provides monetary assistance to very poor families, particularly rural families who live mainly off the land. The assistance is minimal (200 soles, or about $75, a month), but at least it’s something.

Anyway, we held our meeting, and the women were very interested in the filters and in having one for their own families. In Tiqui Tiqui, as in many rural communities in Puno, people get their water primarily from wells, which are often built in a way that allows the water to easily become contaminated, and there is no system to treat the water. In Tiqui Tiqui along with several of the other communities that we had visited prior to the Tiqui Tiqui meeting and several that we’ve visited since, many people acknowledge that the water they drink is contaminated, and admit that they know they should boil the water before drinking it, but due to convenience (and also because boiling water can give it an unpleasant taste, and well water, though it may be contaminated, often tastes fine), oftentimes they drink the water straight from the well. So, there is a definite appeal in the ceramic filters, which don’t require boiling or chlorination and are really easy to use.

So, we were wrapping the meeting up and answering a few final questions about the filter when one of the health center workers came through and told us that the last car to Huancané for the day had just passed through. Um…uh oh? Huancané was nearly a 3 hour walk away from Tiqui Tiqui and it was starting to rain. But before long, one of the other health center workers assured us that because it was Wednesday, there would be more cars passing through that afternoon (I guess Wednesday is the day of the week that cars go to and from these towns, in case anyone wants or needs to leave?). And, sure enough, within a half hour, a bus came through, and we got on, feeling pretty relieved. The walls of the bus were almost rusted through, and parts of the ceiling were duct taped together, but hey, we were just happy to have a ride.

This past week, Rocío and I went to two more communities in the Ilave area for meetings. In one of the communities, the regular meeting had been cancelled, so we gave a presentation at the local high school. As always, I really enjoyed talking to the students, and didn’t feel that anything had been lost by talking to them instead of the adults. In the other community, Cachipucara, we went to two separate meetings in different parts of the community. In both meetings, the people in attendance were so nice and seemed very amused to have me, a foreigner, there.

At any rate, in all of the community meetings we’ve held, there’s been a definite interest in the filters, and nearly everyone wants a filter for their household. The need is definitely there, too–most of the communities we’ve visited are pretty isolated and have no system for water treatment. One thing I worry about, though, is that although the people in these communities are among those who could most benefit from the filters, they’re also among those who are least likely to be able to afford them, even if they are sold at a lower price than the filters from the Urubamba factory (say, 45 soles instead of 85). Many of these families have very little cash income and live mainly off the land and animal husbandry. Hopefully, if a solid middle-class customer base can be established, then perhaps the filters can be sold to poorer communities at a subsidized rate.

So…that’s where I am with my project right now. Next week, we are going to the communities where we’ve done workshops to install the pilot filters, and on Thursday Rocío and I will go to Pucará to speak with community members and a potters’ collective and wrap things up there. I can’t believe I’m almost done with everything–the time has gone so fast!

In other news, this past week was All Saints Day and Day of the Dead in Peru (November 1 and November 2), and everyone had those days off. Day of the Dead celebrations in Peru are somewhat similar to Mexican Day of the Dead Celebrations–families build altars honoring  their deceased loved ones with photos of the person and things they enjoyed in life (particularly favorite foods and drinks), and spend time remembering their lives and praying for their spirits. There are also large celebrations in the cemeteries, with prayer, song, and lots of flowers. On Friday, I went to Juli, a city about two hours from Puno (towards Bolivia), with Javier and his family to participate in the celebrations. Javier’s mom is from Juli and several of their relatives are buried in the cemetery there. I had a great time seeing and participating in all of the local traditions.

Tomorrow (November 4) is the anniversary of Puno, and there are going to be a lot of festivities for that, too. So, it’s been a big weekend for Puno!

I’ll write again next week after the filters are installed in the communities!


I can’t believe it’s already mid-October


So, in my last post I left off right before I traveled to Cusco for five days to see my Mom and the Jaffees (her friends) and to pick up the filters from the Urubamba factory for the pilot program. Spending time with my mom and the Jaffees was so much fun and it was so great to relax and let my mom spoil me for a few days 🙂 One day while in Cusco, my mom and I went to visit the Casa Mantay, where I volunteered in 2007 and 2009, with my mom joining me in 2009. The Casa Mantay (www.mantay.org) is a shelter for young mothers who have children as a result of sexual abuse. There are usually around 15 mothers and their children living in the house at any given time, and the mothers can be as young as ten years old (TEN). Peru has a high instance of rape, and until recently, laws related to rape and sexual abuse were extremely lax. In many cases, rapists could get off with a slap on the wrist. In certain cases, a rapist could get off completely free if he agreed to marry the woman he raped.


‘Disgusting’ and ‘horrifying’ aren’t good enough adjectives here. Luckily, and in part thanks to the hard work and persistence of the Casa Mantay, the rules have changed, and rapists in Peru receive harsher punishments now. But that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t still exist, and that’s where the Casa Mantay comes in.

The Casa teaches the girls first how to be mothers and how to love their children, despite the circumstances (imagine being faced with motherhood at age ten), and also provides tons of resources such as legal assistance (in the case that a mother takes legal action against her attacker), psychological therapy, education (through high school), and specialized job training when desired. The Casa also operates a small taller (workshop), where mothers learn to make purses and other accessories to sell in Cusco. Once the mothers are ready, they move out of the Casa, but many bring their kids back for daycare or come back to work in the taller. Raquel and Sergio, who established the Casa in 2000, are SO passionate about their work and have dedicated their lives to the cause. It’s an incredible operation and it clearly changed my life–ever since my first trip to the Casa in 2007, I haven’t been able to stay away from Peru 🙂 If you’re looking for an organization to donate to, the Casa is a very, very worthy one (to find out how to donate click on the angel on the website’s main page). It doesn’t take a lot to keep the Casa running so any amount helps. Thanks!

Anyway, so the rest of the weekend was a lot of fun, and then on Monday my mom and the Jaffees set off on the Inca Trail. Rocío came out to meet me on Monday afternoon, and we had a great time exploring the city for the evening. Then, on Tuesday morning, we traveled to Urubamba (about an hour away) to pick up the filters and check out the ProPeru factory. Urubamba, located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is surrounded by mountains and full of gorgeous wildlife and colorful flowers. I would have loved to stay and check out the area a little more, but there was work to be done. I guess I’ll have to come back some day.

We were showed around the factory, and though I already knew the process for making the filters, it was interesting to see a small-scale factory, as opposed to the huge Filtron factory I visited in Managua. The process itself is fairly simple, and very doable on a small or large scale (as made apparent by the fact that these factories exist ALL over the world, in a wide variety of environments). The Urubamba factory doesn’t turn out a specific number of filters per month but rather fills orders when they are made. Most of the workers in the Urubamba factory are foreign volunteers, who stay for a few weeks at a time.

Anyway, if you read my last post, you may remember that I was less than thrilled about the price we were being charged for the filters. Well, they were still charging us the same price, so the feeling hadn’t changed. But, we had made up our minds to buy the filters anyway, and, not wanting to cause any drama, we didn’t complain about the price or bring up the inexplicable ‘patent’ claim that had been made two weeks before. So, we got our filters, and moved on, figuratively and literally.

We hired a car to take us and the filters back to Cusco, and from there we went to the bus station to see if we could put the filters on the bus that would take us back to Puno that night. We were told that we couldn’t, and that we would have to send them with one of the shipping companies located in the bus terminal. Dealing with the shipping companies was a classic example of the ‘gringo price’—in Peru, gringos will often be charged a higher price (sometimes much higher) for something than a Peruvian would. On the whole, I think this is fair, but sometimes the difference is a little outrageous. For example, I approached the counter of one of the shipping companies and asked how much they would charge us for each box (we had eight boxes in all), and was told it would be 30 soles per box. That seemed really high, so Rocío lead the way to another counter. There, they told her it would be 10 soles per box. So, there you go. Gringo price. It was a good thing I had Rocío with me or I would have been paying a lot more for EVERYTHING—shipping, taxi rides, etc. So, thanks Rocío! That night, we took the bus back to Puno, and in the morning we picked up the filters. Luckily, they all made it!

On Friday, my mom and the Jaffees arrived in Puno, having successfully completed the Inca Trail. According to them, it was difficult, but incredible. Now I’m kind of regretting not going…but maybe another time! On Saturday, my mom and I went to the Uros, which are floating islands on Lake Titicaca made out of totora reeds. The islands are super touristy now, but they were made by pre-Inca communities over 500 years ago, so hearing about their history and how the islands are made was really cool. On the islands, there is no legal system, nor are there any police, so whenever there’s a dispute between families, they simple use a large saw to cut the island in two and drift them apart. I got a kick out of that. Then, we went to Taquile, another island with a long history of textile production. It was a lot of fun to be a tourist for a day in a city where I’ve lived for over two months now.

On Sunday, we went to Ccotos to visit my host family from last year, and it was really great to have my mom meet my Ccotos family and see the town where I spent six weeks last summer. As always, they fed us a HUGE (and delicious) lunch, and after, we walked around the town and spent some time on the beach.

On Monday, we had lunch with everyone from the office! Again, I really enjoyed introducing my mom to my friends here and showing her what my life in Puno is like. Javier and my mom bonded over the fact that I am a terrible language teacher (my mom has tried to get me to teach her Spanish, and Javier has tried to get me to teach him English…I try, but apparently I don’t have the patience to be a good teacher).

On Tuesday, my mom and the Jaffees set off for the jungle. I was sad to see them go, but I had a LOT of work I needed to get started on. Rocío and I went with several DIRESA employees to two different meetings, one in Putina, an isolated, small town about 2.5 hours from Puno, and another in Huancane, a large town which is about a half hour from Putina. In Putina, people were VERY enthusiastic about the filters. Apparently, they have a brick making industry there, so they wanted to know if the factory could be built there, and if they could start producing filters right away. Unfortunately, Putina is just too isolated and lacks the necessary infrastructure for a successful factory. I didn’t outright tell them they couldn’t have a factory there, because who knows what could happen in the future…but, I did tell them we were looking instead at Pucará for the factory, but that we wanted to work with them to make sure that they will have access to the filters once the factory is up and running. And, we definitely plan to include Putina in our pilot program.

The meeting in Huancane was mainly with healthcare workers who worked at various postas de salud (health centers) in nearby communities, but this was good because we were able to put
several more communities on our list for the pilot program. Again, we were met with a lot of enthusiasm, so I left Huancane feeling really good about everything.

In the meantime, I had discovered that I needed to renew my visa. I had thought that my tourist visa lasted for 90 days, but apparently, it was only for 60 days, and so it had expired by six days. Whoops. Luckily, in Peru, if you overstay your visa you only have to pay one US dollar for every extra day that you stay in the country. So, that was good, but not wanting to have to pay a large sum at the end of my stay, I decided to go to Arica, Chile for the weekend. I chose Chile over Bolivia because while Bolivia is closer and everything in the country is a lot cheaper, US citizens have to pay a $300 visa fee just to enter the country…which is crazy, but I guess it’s a reciprocity thing. So that’s fair, but I still didn’t want to pay $300 for a weekend trip to Bolivia. So instead, I went to Chile! Arica is right on the beach, and it was SO nice to get down from the altitude and spend the weekend hanging out by the ocean. I met a lot of really awesome people at the hostel I was staying at, too. One man from Australia was 76 years old and had been traveling nonstop for 27 years! He said that by this point, he was so addicted to traveling that if he went home, he would go crazy with boredom. He’s been practically everywhere, and his home ‘base’(which is also a hostel) is in Malaysia. Meeting him and hearing his stories was a trip. I mean, I love traveling (obviously), but 27 years? That’s longer than I’ve been alive! But anyway, my favorite part about traveling and staying in hostels is meeting people from all over the world and hearing about everyone’s lifestyles…Backpackers tend to be really interesting, friendly people with a lot of great stories, and in my travels I’ve met a lot of people who I’ve spent just a day or two with but am still in contact with (via facebook, usually) and may see another day in some other part of the world.

So yeah, I had a blast in Chile. I wished I had more time to explore more of the country, but I had to get back to Puno! So, here I am, back up at 12,000 ft, and though I miss the beach, it’s good to be back—I really love the people I live with and my friends here. So, I have a bunch of community meetings planned for this week and the next, and then we’ll probably get started with the pilot program. Things are finally moving along, now, so I’m excited!

Thanks for reading!


Haven’t posted in a while, sorry!

Hello! So, again, I haven’t written in a while because things have been happening and changing so quickly lately that I wanted to wait until I could figure out a little better where things were headed before I wrote another post. Not gonna lie, last week there was a little drama with regards to the filter pilot program, but it looks like things are going to turn out okay. But before I get into that, let me pick up where I left off last time:

Let’s see…so, last time I wrote about the meeting Javier and I had with the public/environmental health people at the DIRESA (regional ministry of health). It went really well, and I got a bunch of contact information of people from several of Puno’s regional health networks who offered to help us set up community meetings. I planned to call them ASAP to get things rolling with the meetings–the time has been flying by, and I wanted to make sure we would get as much done as possible in the few months that I’m here.

But, I had forgotten that things don’t really run on a schedule here in Puno. The next week, I made dozens of phone calls and sent as many emails, only to have a few meetings set up for the end of the week, and THEN only to be cancelled on by those few people. So, by the end of that week, I was admittedly a bit discouraged.

Then, the next week, things picked up. I met with a few more people from the DIRESA and a few of the people who had cancelled on me the week before, and we set some dates for further meetings. So, after the perceived failure of the previous week, last week had me feeling really good about my project again. I can definitely say that working here in Puno has taught me the importance of persistence.

In the meantime, we held two community meetings in the town (or small city, really), of Ilave, which is about an hour from Puno. The meetings were with two different womens’ groups in the area. The first one was a little last-minute and disorganized, but it went well regardless and the women asked us to come back for a follow-up meeting. The second one was probably our best meeting yet–the women were really engaged and talked a lot about their water use and needs.

But then…drama. So, on Friday the 14th, Javier called the Urubamba filter factory to place our order for the pilot program. To our surprise, the director there told him that they, ProPeru, had a patent with Potters for Peace on the filter technology in the Cusco/Puno area and that if we wanted to promote the filters in the region, we had to do it under their name, and not as our own project. Moreover, they were charging a ridiculous price for the filters (85 soles, or around $33, each).

Well, now I can write about this calmly, but at the time I was pretty furious. First of all, I knew the patent claim was a lie, since the filter technology has been available on the Potters for Peace website for free to anyone who wants to use it for years. Potters for Peace’s mission is to help spread the technology to wherever it is wanted, not to let one organization lay claim to an entire region and monopolize filter production. So clearly, something was wrong with what they were saying. Secondly, the price they’re charging for the filters is outrageous. In Cusco, they may be able to get away with selling filters for that high of a price to foreigners and wealthier Peruvians, but I can’t imagine very many people at all in Puno would buy the filters at that price. Moreover, many of the people who need the filters the most would be unable to afford them.

So we had a bit of a crisis on our hands. Even though we knew ProPeru’s patent claim was false, it still looked like they wouldn’t want to work with us, and in that case, we could forget about the pilot program. Ultimately, not being able to do the pilot program actually wouldn’t have a huge impact on my study, as installing the filters in local health centers was going to be more of a way of saying gracias to the communities that worked with us rather than a way of further evaluating their acceptance of the filters. But, as we had already told several people/organizations working with us that we were going to do this, and since even this small measure could have an impact on the communities (we planned to do the pilot program in the communities with the least access to clean water, so even the health centers don’t have clean water to give to patients) I was naturally pretty bummed about the whole thing, and extremely frustrated with ProPeru. It’s a shame that an organization with the means to do such good for the region and really improve peoples’ lives is run by selfish motives.

But at any rate, the ordeal has given me that much more motivation to see this project through and get the ball rolling with this factory so that the filters can be affordable to people in the Puno region. You gotta look on the bright side, right?

So last week, we were reorganizing ourselves and trying to figure out how best to see the project through in the case that we were not able to do the pilot program. ProPeru didn’t answer our phone calls for a few days, so we thought that was pretty much over.  But then, at last, they called us back on Friday. Strangely, this time they mentioned nothing of the patent business. Javier had told them the week before that I was familiar with Potters for Peace’s operations and had visited the office in Managua, so perhaps they realized we would see right through their claim. Anyway, that was no longer a problem. But, they were still charging 85 soles for the filters, and by no means was I thrilled to be giving them business. We finally decided to order just the ceramic part of the filters, and purchase the buckets/lids/spigots in Juliaca (a city about an hour from Puno), hopefully at a much lower price. Next week, on the 2nd, I’ll visit the factory and pick up the filters. I’m hoping to be able to take a tour and interview the director so I can ask him exactly what he meant when he said he had a ‘patent’ on the filters, but given our interactions with them until this point, I’m not expecting them to be extremely cordial. I guess we’ll see.

In other news, last Wednesday, the 19th, was my birthday! We had a celebration at the office, and then the girls from the office took me out to dinner and then dancing afterward. I had sooo much fun and I’m so grateful to be working with people as awesome as these. They’re all so nice and hospitable and have been showing me such a great time in Puno.

This Thursday, I’ll take a bus to Cusco to meet my mom and the Jaffees there. I’m really excited to see them! They’re getting ready to do the Inca Trail the following week, and mad props to them for that. In my five trips to Peru I’ve never attempted it (though to be fair, you have to reserve months in advance, and I just don’t think that far ahead, ever). Then, they’re going to come to Puno and get acquainted with my lifestyle here. After that, they’re leaving me behind and going to the jungle…I got to go to the jungle last year, so I GUESS it’s ok that I don’t get to go. Actually, it’s a good thing, because after they leave I’m going to be really busy with community meetings and workshops hopefully almost every day. Just an hour or so ago I went to the DIRESA (it’s so lucky that the DIRESA is only a few blocks from the Suma Marka office, or I would spend half my time here traveling between the two) and spoke with a few people there who are helping us to set up meetings, and we’re pretty much good to go for all of October.

So, despite the small setbacks, things are definitely going well here. I’m learning soo much and really enjoying myself, and I know that no matter what happens I’m going to leave Peru having had an incredible and life-changing experience here. So, thanks so much for reading my blog! I promise I won’t wait so long before the next post 🙂

Week 4

Hi! I haven’t written in a while because there’s been somewhat of a change of plans and I wanted to wait a bit to see how things played out before I wrote a full post. So, a transportation strike prevented me from going to Pucará as planned the other week, and in the intervening days in Puno, Javier and I drew up a new plan. He thought it was important that I meet with people from the DIRESA (the Dirección Regional de Salud, or the regional ministry of health) and get their support before proceeding with the community meetings and the pilot program. Thing is, as a foreigner I can’t really just show up to the communities and hope people will talk to me–a lot of people in the rural communities around Puno, especially the ones that are particularly remote, tend to be suspicious of outsiders. Their suspicion is certainly justified–a lot of the communities have been exploited by outsiders ever since the Spanish came back in the 16th century. And right now, the foreign mineros are doing their part to contribute to that distrust by blowing off mountain tops (many mountains or apus are regarded as sacred by indigenous communities), heavily contaminating water sources (causing animals to die, crops to fail, and people to get sick, thus destroying their livelihoods), and completely denying having any negative effect on the environment in the process. The same thing is happening up north in Cajamarca–the Wall Street Journal even featured an article on it the other day. It’s outrageous but my hope is that as the public opinion against the mining companies grows stronger, the issues will be too public for these huge, transnational companies to proceed with their mining projects as thousands of local citizens protest the destruction of their natural resources, which they have relied on for, well, forever. But sadly, by that point it may be too late to clean up the mess left by the mining companies. After all, you can’t replace mountaintops that have been blown to bits. And then there’s the mercury, and the cyanide runoff into the watersheds…

Did I mention that you shouldn’t get me started on the mining industry? I just remembered, though, that the transportation strike the other day was due to the fact that several representatives of one of the big mining companies with operations in the Puno region were flying in to check up on the mine, and so all of the transportation workers in Juliaca and Puno went on strike. There were demonstrations in the Plaza de Armas, too. Granted, the mineros probably had private transportation, but still, it’s encouraging to see so many people speak out against the mines.

But anyway! Back to my project. Where was I…Oh, right. So I can’t just go into the communities and expect them to welcome me with open arms. And if people at the DIRESA backed up the project, it would carry a lot more weight with the locals. But first, I had to convince the DIRESA that the project was worthwhile.

To do this, I had to present a plan to the DIRESA that would be a little more solid than saying I just hoped to talk to as many people as possible about their water needs. After talking to Javier and David from the Chijnaya Foundation, we decided it would be best to first hold talleres (workshops) sort of similar to the water monitoring ones I went to in Santiago and Ticani Pampa, in which someone from Suma Marka and I would go to various communities and meet with people to talk about the importance and benefits of drinking clean water, and to talk about the filters to see if there is an interest in them. As I think I mentioned way back in my blog post on Nicaragua, many people may not even realize that it is contaminated water that is causing an increase in diarrhea and other such illnesses. If the water looks, tastes, and smells the same as it always has, the connection may not be very obvious. Or, on the other hand, they may realize that the water is contaminated, but do not have the means to purify it. Sure, most people could boil their water, but in order to ensure the water is clean, you have to boil the water for at least seven minutes, wasting precious fuel in the process, then wait a long time for it to cool. The hard-working lifestyles of many of the people in the rural communities makes this pretty inconvenient. Of course, the ceramic filter is slow (1-3 liters/hour), but you can fill it up at night and then have water that is ready to drink in the morning, then fill it up again and have water by evening. So, the time spent by the user in getting clean water is pretty minimal.

So anyway, the first part of the plan would be the workshops. The workshops are also a good opportunity for me to introduce myself to people in the communities so that when I come back later, they will hopefully be comfortable with me around. To do these workshops, we need lots of educational materials, such as posters and pamphlets, to leave with community members. So, I spent all last week designing all of these materials (with the much-appreciated help of Stef, Rocío, and Diana!) so that we’re ready to go.

This past Monday, Javier and I went to the DIRESA to talk with people in the environmental health and public health departments. Luckily, it went really well, and they invited us back on Wednesday to give a more formal presentation about the project. So today, we went back, and a few more people came to hear us talk. Everyone seemed very interested in the filters, and some said they thought a filter factory in Pucará would definitely work. So, that was good news. Then, we were informed that almost all of the representatives of the regional redes de salud (health networks) were actually on the premises for a meeting that day, and if we wanted, we could talk to them, as well. This was excellent news, since we planned to meet with everyone from the various redes de salud anyway, and being able to meet with all of them in one place saved us a lot of time! So they came, and we did our presentation again. Afterwards, several of them offered to help us set up workshops in the region, and we already have a few dates planned for the next two weeks. So all in all, today was a great success!

So, that’s what’s been going on with my project up to now. In other news, last week Javier’s brother got a kitten and let it run loose in the office. Javier, who is allergic to cats, was out of town all last week, so the kitty, named Pichililo, was allowed to stay for the time being. All of us fell in love with him and are very sad now that Javier is back and has exiled Pichililo to the third floor.

Also running loose in the office lately is Javier’s 3-year old daughter Adriana, who is one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. She loves barbies, playing ‘store’, and her favorite band is Nirvana. Not kidding. She’s great.

Oh, and I almost forgot! The past two Sundays I went to Ccotos, where I lived with a family for six weeks last year as a volunteer for the Chijnaya Foundation. The family has seven sons and daughters ages 5-23, and at the end of my stay last year I became the godmother of 11-year old Carolina, one of the daughters. I promised them last year that I would come back, and seeing them for the first time since then was amazing. They are so wonderful and are really like family to me, in spite of the fact that our lifestyles could hardly be more different. I’ll definitely be back to visit them many more times while I’m in Peru.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. I’m hoping to be able to do a bit of traveling soon (maybe to Arequipa for a weekend to see the Colca Canyon), but we’ll see how it goes as my project proceeds.




Week 2 in Puno

Hello!! So, things have been picking up a lot here in the last few days! Mainly, I’ve been meeting with various people who have all provided really helpful advice for my project. On Monday, I attended a “Red Suma Quta” meeting–the Red Suma Quta is Suma Marka’s network of local NGOs, government agencies, and communities that work on water issues in the area, and representatives from a number of different organizations came. This was really great because one piece of advice given to me by nearly everyone I spoke with about my project before coming to Peru is to network with as many local NGOs as possible. So, I was able to speak to the group about the ceramic filters and explain what I’m doing here, and a number of people said they were definitely interested in working with me. So that was pretty awesome!

Tuesday, I went to the headquarters of Cáritas, an NGO represented in the meeting the day before, to speak with the engineers there. Cáritas does a lot of work on environmental issues in the Puno area and is pretty well known in the city, so it’s really great to have contacts there. I spoke for a while with Nestor Cuellar, one of the engineers, who helped me lay out a solid plan for the next few months. As of right now (and I know my plans will probably change from week to week, but I figure it’s good to at least try to plan ahead), my plan is as such: tomorrow or Sunday, depending on when I can get a ride with David from the Chijnaya Foundation, I will go to Pucará for a few weeks to get to know the potters, local health workers, authorities, etc. and assess the level of interest in the possibility of having a filter factory there. I’m hoping I’ll also be able to do a focus group or at least several interviews regarding local water needs, and I’ll be able to assess details regarding infrastructure and the potential site of the factory while there. I don’t know exactly how long I’ll be there–I’m just planning to stay as long as it takes to get to know the community and answer a number of questions I have.

When I get back from Pucará, I am going to order a certain quantity of filters from the factory in Urubamba for a pilot program. I’m hoping to be able to visit the Urubamba factory, but it’s unclear right now whether I will be able to do that. Once I have the filters, I plan to go to as many communities as possible where there are problems with waterborne illnesses to do more focus groups/interviews so as to be better able to assess whether the ceramic filter is something people would want to buy and use or not. I’ll install 2-3 filters for free in each community in public spaces such as the local health center, schools, etc., and will train people how to use and maintain the filters (which is pretty simple–the most important thing is making sure the spigot stays clean!). Then, I’ll return in several weeks to see how the community has responded to the filters. I’m hoping that this approach will allow me to get around the ‘respondent bias’–the thing is, if I ask people straight up whether they would like to buy a filter, most people will probably say, sure. However, the reality of the market could be quite different. So, I’m going to give this plan a shot, and see what happens.

Wednesday, I went with Stef, another really awesome member of Suma Marka, to the town of Ticani Pampa, where we were going to do a joint workshop with Patricio, another engineer from Cáritas. Like the Santiago excursion, Stef and I were going to talk about the importance of drinking clean water, then Stef would explain the water monitoring program, and I would talk about the filters. Patricio was going to talk about best practices regarding livestock care such that the livestock owners could improve the health of their cattle and maximize milk yields. Ticani Pampa has a sizeable cheese factory, so a lot of people own cattle and these matters are pretty important.

To get to Ticani Pampa, Stef and I hopped on a combi (local transport vans that hold around ten people) to Juliaca and had the driver drop us off halfway, kind of in the middle of nowhere. From there, we had to walk about 45 minutes to get to the school, where we were going to give the presentation. I had brought along a filter with a few liters of water in it so that people could try the water if they wanted to, and let’s just say that a) the filters are a little heavy, particularly when there’s water in them and b) my arm strength is pretty pathetic, so the walk turned out to be a bit more strenuous than I had expected. Buuut we made it and I was fine, so, whatever.

Anyway, we met up with Patricio by the school at long last. Patricio had informed most of the local families about the workshop, so, hoping there would be a big turnout, we waited for people to show up. And then we waited some more. And more. And finally, a handful of people showed up to hear our presentation. Not quite the turnout we were expecting, but it was better than nothing. A bunch of the middle and high school students were outside for recess, so we invited them to come, too. I didn’t really expect them to abandon their soccer and volleyball games to hear us talk about water filters and cattle care, but, surprisingly, every single one of them came and appeared super eager to hear our presentation. So in all, I was actually really, really happy with the way things turned out–yet another piece of advice offered to me by Robert of PFP and a number of other people was that it’s really important to educate the youth about the importance of drinking clean water–more important than educating the adults, even, because the kids are more likely to internalize the message and be willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary in order to obtain clean drinking water. So, having a classroom full of attentive students to talk to was great.

So, we gave our presentation, and the mayor of Ticani Pampa, who was in attendance, definitely seemed interested in the filters! So, hopefully I can get back there in a few weeks and include them in the pilot program. Then, we walked a million miles back to the road and waited for a really long time for a combi that wasn’t full to pick us up. And eventually, we got a ride back to Puno. Taking combis is awesome because you can go all over the region for only a few soles (the equivalent of a dollar or two). Even taxis are super cheap here, but comparatively, combis are the way to go.

So, that was Wednesday. Thursday, I met with the head chemist at the DIRESA, or the ministry of health in Puno. My plan was to have him tell me in which areas people were getting sick from drinking contaminated water so that I could figure out which towns to visit for the pilot program. But, according to the chemist, in nearly EVERY town where people get their water from wells, the water is contaminated, because the wells aren’t covered properly. And, people get their water from wells in virtually every town around here. So, it looks like no matter what town I go to, I’ll be able to give the pilot program a shot. Ultimately, that makes things easier, since some towns are harder to get to than others, and I’ll have opportunities to go with people from Suma Marka/Cáritas/etc. to various towns where they’ve already organized meetings. The study won’t be comprehensive, as I very highly doubt I’ll be able to visit EVERY community, but hopefully I’ll be able to cover enough communities to get a sense of the larger market for the filters. So, yay!

Last night, we had a surprise party at the Suma Marka office for Javier’s longtime girlfriend, Maria. We drank pisco sours (the favored national alcoholic drink), ate anticuchos (cow hearts!! eek!! I was a vegetarian for a long time in the US but have been eating meat since coming to Peru, as being a vegetarian here is pretty impossible unless you’re down to eat only potatoes and rice. But still, the anticucho thing was a bit difficult for me. I can’t say I want to eat them again…I’ll admit they taste pretty good, but the texture is a little too funky for me) and cake, and danced to traditional Peruvian music as well as more modern cumbia and salsa tunes. I had a lot of fun and was put to shame by most of the Peruvians at the party, who stayed up and partied a lot later than I was able to.

Today, I’m hanging out at the office and catching up on my blog, obviously. Tomorrow, I’m going to Pucará! Well, I’m probably going to Pucará tomorrow. I’m definitely going very soon and I probably won’t post again before that. Sooo I’ll catch ya later!! Thanks for reading!



First days in Puno!

Woohoo, I made it! After finally getting (somewhat) used to the altitude, I hopped on a bus Wednesday morning to Puno. The ride is supposed to be about six hours, so I was looking forward to getting in to the city by mid-afternoon.

Note how I said supposed to be about six hours. There’s a saying taught to me by Ralph Bolton, my professor and founder of the Chijnaya Foundation, that goes, YIP. YIP? Yup. You’re in Peru. Basically it means that here in the Andes, you never know what’s going to happen. Things almost never run according to schedule, people are often protesting something or are on strike, and the more you try to organize something, the more confusing it can become. In Peru, you just have to go with the flow and learn how to improvise when necessary. And in the end, everything seems to somehow work out just fine. I have lots of YIP stories. Ask me sometime.

Anyway, this time it was a minor YIP, but we were stopped in two different towns by people blocking the road. In the first town, I saw someone with a sign that said, “No a la educación privada” (No to private education). In the second, I didn’t see any signs, so I don’t know what they were protesting. In both occasions, we had to sit there for about half an hour while someone (I don’t know who, I was on the second floor of the bus and couldn’t see what was going on) negotiated with the protestors to let us pass. Again, I have no idea what transpired to get the protestors to let us through, but eventually, they did, and we moved on towards Puno.

By the time we made it, it was early evening. I checked into my hostel, grabbed a bite to eat, and went back to rest, since I still wasn’t 100% over the change in altitude. Puno, at 12,000 ft, is even higher than Cusco, which is at about 11,000 ft.

The next morning I went and bought myself a cell phone so I could start calling people who would help me with my project. Later that day, Javier, the director of Suma Marka, gave me a call and asked me to come into the Suma Marka office. We talked for a long time about what I planned to do and what might be the best way to proceed. The most daunting thing right now is how broad and open-ended the scope of my project could be if I don’t stick to a plan. Luckily, Robert’s advice gave me a good idea of exactly what questions I need to have answered to figure out whether we should go forward with the filter factory or not. In the very near future, I plan to go to the town of Pucará and spend some time there so I can get to know the potters, health center workers, and anyone else who might help me get to know the community and obtain the information we need.

Another reason Javier had me come in was to ask if I wanted to go to a water workshop run by Diana and Rocio, two members of Suma Marka, the following day in the town of Santiago. Obviously, I said yes! We planned to bring a ceramic filter along so I could explain how it worked and assess the community’s reaction. Diana and Rocio were going to talk about the importance of drinking clean water and were going to bring a water monitoring kit along to explain how to test local water sources.

The next day, I met Diana and Rocio as planned at the Suma Marka office. Diana and Rocio are biology students from Puno and are around my age. They’re extremely nice and I’m really happy to be able to work with them.

Anyway, we set off for Juli, a town about an hour and a half from Puno. During the Colonial era, the Spanish built all sorts of ornate cathedrals all around Juli, and for that reason and because of its breathtaking views of Lake Titicaca, the town has a small but thriving tourist industry. It’s a really neat little town, and the people there are very friendly and laid back.

In Juli, we met up with Justo Castillo, a municipal authority in the area who had agreed to take us to Santiago and help us coordinate the workshop with the local authorities there. Let me just say that Justo Castillo is one of the nicest people I’ve met, ever. All day he was SO helpful and friendly, and wants to help Suma Marka in the future with other projects in the area. So, it was really great to have him along for the day.

So, we took a taxi to Santiago, and right away, YIP. We were supposed to meet with the mayor, but the mayor happened to be out of town that day. The man who received us instead showed us the room where we were to hold the workshop. The room was tiny–like, maybe 15 people could fit, but even then it would be a VERY tight squeeze. The man then informed us that approximately 100 people would be attending the workshop. Uh oh. We asked, was there a bigger room? Nope. We grew a little concerned. We had a powerpoint presentation with lots of photos that we wanted to show, and we needed a big room to do that. We asked, what about the classrooms? They would certainly be big enough. Nope, turns out the teachers were on strike, and they had locked all of the classrooms. So we couldn’t use them, and that was that.

Eventually, we agreed to give our talk outside, without the powerpoint presentation. And, instead of the original 100 people, all of the local authorities would be gathered, and there would be enough chairs for them, and if anyone wanted to hang around nearby and listen, then they were welcome to do that. But before we could begin, the Santiago authorities had their own special presentation to give. First, the man who received us, who turned out to be the local policeman, donned his police uniform and marched to the flagpole, where the Peruvian and Santiago flags would be raised. The other local authorities followed in formation as music played in the background. Another man gave a short speech over a microphone, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying, as he was speaking in Aymara, an indigenous language spoken throughout the area (in other parts of the Andes, Quechua is the primary language). Then, the national anthem was sung, and everyone returned to their seats.

Thinking it was time to begin our presentation, we got the filter and monitoring kit out and made a move for the podium. But before we could start, the policeman told us that someone had brought out a case of beer, and the attendees wanted to drink it while it was still cold, so could we wait a little longer? YIP. So, we waited, and then, at last, we began our presentation. We went through the whole thing, which lasted maybe half an hour, and everything seemed to go pretty smoothly. Afterwards, we asked if there were any questions. One man raised his hand and politely informed us that because most of the people present spoke only Aymara, and since we had given the presentation in Spanish, a lot of people didn’t understand a word of what we had said. Oops. After some pleading on our part, the man who had spoken up agreed to give a summary of our presentation in Aymara. Someone asked if Diana and Rocio would use the monitoring kit to test the water from a nearby well. They agreed, and the man graciously continued his makeshift role as translator for us. Afterwards, several of the authorities displayed a definite interest in having Suma Marka workers come back to train them how to use the monitoring kit. So, all in all, we decided the day was a success!

After that, it was time to go. However, because we had taken longer than planned, the taxi driver who had said he would come pick us up to take us back to Juli wasn’t there. Justo suggested we flag down a car on the road to take us back, as it was only about a ten minute drive. In other words, we were going to hitchhike back. As it turns out, the driver of the van that stopped to pull us over happened to be a good friend of Justo’s, and didn’t even make us pay for the ride. So, all’s well that ends well.

We walked around Juli for a bit, visited an old cathedral, and had lunch before heading back to Puno. Because we had been out in the sun all day, we were all pretty exhausted. I fell asleep shortly after returning to my hostel and didn’t wake up until morning.

Today (Saturday), I made a few phone calls, wrote some emails, and enjoyed the nice weather. After yesterday, it was a pretty relaxing day.

But anyway, that’s about it for now! Hasta la próxima!



So I’ve been in Peru just under a week now, and so much has happened already! Well, nothing much happened the first three days, since I was spending most of that time sleeping and drinking lots of water and coca tea in a hostel in Cusco so I could adjust to the altitude. For some reason, the altitude hit me harder this time than any of the other times I’ve been to Peru. The five other girls who were in my dorm at the hostel (all of whom were SF State students who had been working with an NGO in Bolivia for the past two months) also noted that they felt unusually under the weather. Maybe it’s something in the air? Who knows…But anyway, once I finally bought some sorojchi pills (some special concoction for altitude sickness) at a local pharmacy, I felt a hundred times better.

It felt good to be back in Cusco–this was my fourth time back to the city since 2007, so I know my way around pretty well. However, the city’s changed a lot since the first time I came due to a steady increase in tourism. Cusco is the stopoff point for every traveler going to Machu Picchu and hosts a number of impressive ruins and historical sites itself. I was in Cusco last year, in July of 2011, during the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham. Thousands of people came to the city to celebrate (and thousands more were at the actual ruins), and the city pulled out all the stops. The celebrations were wild, but not everyone was happy about it–all along the front wall of one of the main cathedrals in the Plaza de Armas (the central plaza), people had posted signs protesting the celebration of what they claimed amounted to the “selling out of Incan and Indigenous culture”–and, granted, most of the people in the plaza that night WERE foreigners.

But, anyway…At any rate, I really love Cusco, in part because I had somewhat of a near-death experience there in 2009, when I had H1N1, double pneumonia, and a few other infections that I don’t know the names of all at the same time–sounds miserable (and it was) but I came out of it with an immense appreciation for the nurses, doctors, and all of my Peruvian friends who took such great care of me and made me feel comfortable despite being so ill in a foreign country. I feel like I’ll always have a special relationship with the city and I know I’ll be back soon. Very soon, since Cusco is where I’m going to meet my Mom and the Jaffees when they come to visit at the end of September. Ha.

I’m in Puno now, and I have a lot to say about what’s happened here, so I’m going to write about that in the next post! Thanks for reading!



So I’m now officially in Peru! I arrived in Cusco early this morning and have been taking the day to rest and acclimate. It’s great to be back here–this is my fourth time visiting Cusco, and the city is starting to feel like my second home! But anyway, I want to write about what I’ve been up to the past week. Like I said in my last post, the first stop of my trip was Managua, Nicaragua. I stopped in Managua before heading down to Peru to check out the Potters for Peace operations here and learn as much as possible about how they help people get filter factories up and running. Potters for Peace (PFP) has two central aims: one is helping to maintain Nicaragua’s pottery traditions by assisting local subsistence potters with their work (through providing supplies, advice, etc.); the other is sending representatives to locations throughout the world to assist people who want to establish ceramic filter factories like the one we hope to build in Peru! It’s a really cool organization run by several potters from the US, and if you’re into ceramics (or the filter project) you should definitely look into it.

Anyway, before arriving to Managua I had been in contact with Robert Pillers, the director of the Nicaragua PFP operations. Robert had agreed to show me around when I arrived, and I was really looking forward to it. We agreed to meet on Tuesday.

In the meantime, I arrived to Managua on Monday around noon after having to wake up at 3 in the morning to catch my flight. Out of it and in disbelief that my trip was actually underway after so much time spent developing the project, the 30 minute taxi ride from the airport to the hostel where I was staying was spent in somewhat of a daze (All I could think was, “I’m here! Wait, what? Yep, this is definitely Nicaragua, and I’m really here”).

Most tour guides and foreigners who have visited Nicaragua will acknowledge that Managua is not the loveliest place to visit in the country. And given Nicaragua’s beautiful beaches and rainforests, they’re right. However, though the urban sprawl of Managua fails to attract many outsiders for more time than is necessary to pass through, the city is surrounded by lush, green hills and huge lakes, and if you get just outside of the urban area, the views are beautiful. At any rate, I was excited to be there! I spent most of the first day just napping and hanging out in the hostel, especially since it was raining all afternoon.


Photo: a street in downtown Managua

I was staying at the Managua Backpackers Inn, which I recommend to any backpackers traveling through the city. It’s clean, inexpensive, and a great place to meet other travelers. Hostels like this are great for someone like me traveling by herself–within the first 24 hours I met several new friends who kept me from getting lonely in my first few days out of the States.

But anyway, back to what I actually came here to do! The next day at 9 AM, Robert came to pick me up from the hostel with his assistant, Alvaro. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we set off for the PFP office, located just a few minutes from the hostel. Right away, we got to talking about the filter factories in and around Managua. That day, we were going to visit the Filtron factory, a model operation located about 30 minutes outside of the city. In the office, Robert showed me a few filters and some small innovations that had been made to the filter design. One thing I quickly learned was that the ceramic filter model and the process of producing the filters are constantly being developed and improved upon in various ways.Image

Photo: Some examples of ceramic filters at the PFP office.

On the way to the Filtron factory, Robert talked about the importance of educating filter users about water contamination and the purpose of the filters. If the filters are simply handed out with no explanation of why they are important to use and how to use and take care of them, people are unlikely to value the filters and may even use them for other purposes, such as a storage vessel. In some cases, people may not be aware of the germ theory of disease, and so if the water looks, tastes, and smells the same as it always has, they may not attribute an increase in illnesses such as diarrhea to water contamination.

What is also important is to work with as many other NGOs in the area as possible. The success of a filter factory depends on a lot of factors within each stage of production as well as distribution, publicity campaigns, fostering relationships with the ministry of health and other institutions, and community education. Just one organization couldn’t possibly handle all of that. Luckily for me, Suma Marka (the Peruvian organizaton I will be working with) has started to compile a network of NGOs in the Puno area, and through Suma Marka and the Chijnaya Foundation, I already have a long list of contacts who are interested in the project.

The Filtron factory itself was incredible. Robert acknowledged that this was not at all an accurate representation of your typical ceramic filter factory–the factory is funded by a billionaire Dutchman who also owns a large worm farm, a small coffee growing operation, and a sports complex for the workers and their children on the same property. Unfortunately, the Dutchman was not around the day I visited…He seems like he must be a pretty awesome guy.

Anyway, I got to see what was going on at each step of the production process. Though the process may seem relatively simple, each step requires a lot of expertise and familiarity with clay and how to properly shape and fire it so that it doesn’t break or leak. For instance, in my last post I mentioned that the filters are made of a mixture of sawdust and clay. The clay to sawdust ratio has to be just right so that the flow rate is neither too low (below 1 liter/hour) or too high (above 3 liters/hour). The thing is, clay is not a consistent material, and each batch needs to be tested and the clay/sawdust ratio adjusted accordingly. The firing process is the trickiest part of all. The amount of time the filters are fired and at what temperature needs to be an exact science, and the science can vary depending on the structure and condition of the kiln. It’s essential to keep as much data on the firing of the filters as possible so as to be able to determine the cause of any problems with the finished filters.


Photo: filters ready to be fired.


Photo: Kilns!

Basically, quality control is of the utmost importance. Every worker participates in quality control, and quality checks are performed at each step of the process. The tests are fairly simple–if you knock on the filter and it doesn’t ring, it is cracked. If you submerge the bottom portion of the filter in water and water comes through before ten seconds are up, the flow rate is too high. If the flow rate is too high, the filter is no good. If it’s too low, it can be fired again. When I was at the factory, the workers were setting aside quite a few filters that were deemed defective. Apparently, the latest batch of clay was full of rocks and pumice, which was causing problems.


Photo: Checking individual filters for problems.

Ultimately, as Robert told me, the ceramic filter model is not perfect, and, as I said earlier, improvements can always be made. However, no filter model is perfect, and this one seems to be the one that people like the best and is easiest to produce inexpensively and locally. Other methods, such as boiling water or the UV method (placing translucent water containers on the roof so that the UV rays kill the bacteria), may be complementary to the filter method but by themselves are much more inconsistent than the filter method and can take a lot more time and effort (who wants to haul water up to the roof every day? And what are people supposed to do during the rainy season?).

So, my day at the Filtron factory was definitely a very productive one, and I feel a lot more prepared to start my work in Peru! Learning about PFP’s work and seeing the Filtron factory in action was so exciting and put some context to everything I’ve been reading about the filter production process. Robert, if you’re reading this, thank you so much again!!


Photo: Robert and me at the Filtron factory

After visiting the Filtron factory, I had a few extra days in Nicaragua before my flight to Peru. Luckily for me, I had made a few friends at the hostel who were interested in traveling together. On Thursday, we took a bus to San Juan del Sur, a small surf town on the Pacific coast…and it was absolutely beautiful! It was so awesome that my friend Omeed, who had been traveling around and looking for a place to learn Spanish and find a job for himself, decided to stay there for good. It was so nice to have some time to relax on the beach before the big trip to Peru!


Photo: Sunset in San Juan del Sur

But, like I said, I’m here now! I’ll probably spend two nights resting in Cusco before taking a bus to Puno (it’s about a 6-hour journey). Once I’m there, I hope to get working as soon as possible!

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!



Who I am and What I’m Doing

Hi! My name is Courtney Miller. I’m 22 years old, originally from Columbus, Ohio, and a recent graduate of Pomona College in Claremont, California, where I received a degree in International Relations with a minor in Spanish. In a few days, I will be living in the Puno/Lake Titicaca region of Peru, where I will conduct a feasibility study on the potential of a small, locally-run water filter factory in the area. To do this, I will be working with the support and assistance of the Peruvian organization Suma Marka and The Chijnaya Foundation. I have the opportunity to carry out this project thanks to a generous grant from the Napier Initiative of the Pilgrim Place.

In all, I will be in Peru for approximately five months. My primary objective is to determine whether a ceramic filter factory based on the model developed by the organization Potters for Peace is the most viable option to provide clean water to people in the Puno area.  In many communities, well, stream, river, or lake water may be contaminated with bacteria, fecal matter, or parasites. The ceramic filter removes these harmful organic materials in this way: first, the filter is made out of a mixture of clay and sawdust and shaped from a mold. When the filter is fired, the sawdust burns out, leaving microscopic holes for the water to pass through. Then, a layer of colloidal silver is applied to the inside and outside of the filter, which kills the bacteria. The ceramic filter is placed in a plastic bucket with a spigot, which can dispense water to another receptacle. Though the process may seem relatively simple, it requires a lot of expertise in working with clay and knowing how to shape and fire it correctly so that it does not crack and so the filter rate is appropriate (approx. 1-3 liters per hour is ideal).

Benefits of building the factory, other than the obvious of having a way to provide clean drinking water to Puno communities, include being able to source most of the necessary materials locally and creating jobs for local people. But though this all sounds great, it still doesn’t mean it would be a success. So, my job will be to gather as much information as possible through interviews and focus groups in communities throughout the area to assess where and what the water problems are, what methods people are currently using to obtain clean water, how they assess those methods in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, (because many people in these communities dedicate much of their lives to difficult manual labor, efficiency in terms of minimal opportunity cost is extremely important) , and if the ceramic filter is something people would want.  After conducting as many interviews and focus groups as possible, I will compile all of the information I will have gathered into a comprehensive report. From there, if we find that a small ceramic filter factory would be a feasible endeavor, we will hopefully be able to use the report to apply for greater funding to get things moving with the factory.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing for the next few months! Right now, I am in Managua, Nicaragua, where the Potters for Peace headquarters is located. I arrived yesterday and have already been having an awesome time–more on that in my next post!

Saludos, amigos!!