Monica, Rodrigo & Rene sieve sand before lockdown

“I have in my heart many small villages”: Pandemic increases need for biosand filters

By Emma Condori Mamani, Project Leader of “Biosand filters clean 100 Bolivian families’ water” project

29 June 2020

Last year at this time, 6 out of 10 Bolivians could live well: they had food, housing and healthcare, and could support their children’s studies. Now, because of the strictly-enforced total lockdown during the pandemic, the Bolivian economy has completely stopped. Now, we can say that 6 out of 10 families find themselves in total poverty, which brings immense problems for health. We need to think about others now more than ever. I am praying to God that our project will be able to help again soon.

I am witnessing the growing poverty. More people need help. I have in my heart many small villages and towns that really need water. This project is even more important right now as more and more people are not able to pay for piped water. We are doing something good. We are supporting families in need. Many families have started using shallow hand-dug wells: they need to purify their water. 

In February, we received all the 2019 year-end donations made to the project. Thank you! We immediately made plans to install biosand filters and set out to buy the materials, especially sand, needed to build the filters in March and April. We worked over the first two weeks of March. Some filters are even ready to be installed. I have two pictures from our last day working—we could say, the last day with no pandemic. It was a wonderful day. The next day the lockdown began.

Rodrigo, Diego & Rene prepare the filter casting mold

It has felt almost like a prison here, all by myself, except I cook my own meals and sleep in my own bed. Nobody is working or going outside. Since March, we have been allowed out just once a week, for groceries, on our designated day. Because of the lockdown, we couldn’t access the bank at all. We were expected to do online banking, but access to the internet is limited. I haven’t visited the worksite. We, the project organizers and volunteers, haven’t even spoken. We have been in silence. There was no way to recharge the credit on our phones. No shops were open, and there was no money for phones or to access the internet during the lockdown. Before, I had internet access at home, briefly, and at the office. Now, with the office closed, I pay $2 for approximately 15 minutes of internet use.

I have made a bit of money teaching English classes online to a few students who can still afford it. I share this work with my fellow teacher, so she can earn something too. No one else in the project can afford to maintain an internet connection. How can they, when they can’t leave their homes to work because of the lockdown? They have been online maybe once or twice in the last three months. All students are supposed to go to school online, but many families can’t even find a way to upload their children’s homework. My parents said I need to go back to my hometown. “You’re very far away, we can’t take care of you”, they said. I have been by myself for so long. 

Complete lockdown lasted until June, and even now, the hours for movement are restricted: only until 3p.m. No one goes outside on the weekends. We now have access to banks one to two times a week, but the queues are long. If you have limited time and transportation, it becomes very complicated. Most Bolivians don’t have private cars, and most of us live far from the center of the city. Movement for public transit workers have also been restricted to their designated day. It remains hard to move around and easy to get stranded far from home, risking fines and arrests by soldiers for breaking the government’s COVID decree.

It has been a very difficult struggle. We have an expression in Spanish: “problems don’t come in ones”. It’s scary, though sometimes it feels like an adventure. I think things will be a little bit better now and more flexible with work as they are letting us move around more freely. But I believe we won’t be able to start the project again in earnest until August. We still have some funds to continue our work and begin to meet the growing need for clean water. 

Knowing friends are thinking of us gives me courage and fortitude. Also I see a lot of hope. Many Quakers, even some elders, have been more supportive during the lockdown as they recognize the value of our work with this biosand filter project, and with the youth. This pandemic is a great leveler: it makes us think about equality because it affects us all.

This article was submitted as a report for the Biosand filters clean 100 Bolivian families’ water campaign, with support from GDF North America.

We are extremely grateful for donations to support these efforts, either through the GlobalGiving online campaign or through GDF’s North America programme.