Field Note #169: Life-Saving Clean Water in the D.R.
On a warm, Friday afternoon during his siesta, Radhames Carela looked at his house across the street and then back into the main room of the Wine To Water factory and said, “this is my life.”
Radha has worked with filters since 2003 and with clay for more than 45 years. He’s a craftsman, a husband, a father, and a survivor. This is his story.
Radha has lived all his life in Moca, a small town outside of Santiago, Dominican Republic. He has drunk the water here all his life too.
In Moca, people buy large, five gallon jugs of seemingly clean water. But just because water is clear, does not mean it is clean. Lack of water education leads most people to think it is.
Radha thought it was clean too. Just like everyone else in his area, he had been drinking bottled water and used tap water for everything else. But in his early adulthood, he became very, very sick. He had a bacteria buildup that continued to press on his stomach. For years, he saw the doctor every six months to get an antibiotic that would kill the bacteria. But six months later, he’d return asking for the same antibiotic.
Radha thought there was no solution to his problem. He thought he was going to die.
This was about the time he met he met Lisa Balentine. Lisa was a missionary that worked with teens in the greater Santiago area in the Dominican Republic. During her time, she discovered how people were living on the side of the river, using its water as their primary resource, where she found Radha.
Lisa saw the sickness that was in these people and had a calling to help. She had an idea to develop a filter out of locally-sourced materials. Using Radha’s skills in pottery, they worked together to develop a ceramic pot using clay, sawdust and silver. The clay and sawdust form a porous membrane that water can easily seep through. While the water seeps through the clay, a thin layer of silver inlaid in the inside cuts through the bacteria allowing for clean water to be filtered as a result.
“When I started using the filter, I stopped the problem,” Radha said.
Two years later, he discovered that he no longer had any bacteria in his stomach.
With this discovery, he realized that the water that he had been buying, and the water everyone was buying in his community, was killing them.
“People need to learn more about the water they’re drinking. These people are going to be very sick if they continue drinking that bottled water,” Radha said.
Lisa opened Aqua Pur, a factory in the DR right next Rada’s house and they continued working together for the next nine years.
Wine To Water’s presence in the Dominican Republic began with a response to the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that destroyed Haiti in 2010. Doc Hendley knew Lisa and bought into the filters to provide aid for those affected by the tragedy. Together, they served Haiti that week and continued serving after.
Doc came to the factory in Moca after being in Haiti, and he immediately knew the worth of the work they were doing. Using local resources to provide local jobs to help local people. Talk about a sustainable organization! Doc initiated a partnership between Aqua Pur and Wine To Water that week.
Wine To Water began sending volunteers down to the Dominican Republic to help with filter distribution and education. Implementing the WaSH method of sanitation and hygiene, these teams helped support the work the Radha and so many others were doing in the factories. Once volunteers provided awareness of the harm of unclean water, more people saw the necessity in purchasing a filter.
In 2015, Lisa transitioned the ownership of the factory entirely over to Wine To Water so that they could continue working with these communities more freely. We’ve been actively and intentionally involved here ever since.
The filter is continuously evolving and changing. Radha and Lisa’s first bowl-shaped filter has come so far to be what it is now. But it’s not staying here. When more people can recognize the value in clean water, the filter will change even more. Its future is huge.
“I’ve enjoyed working with clay my whole life, but now life’s even better because I know I am helping people live better too,” said Radha.
This filter is recommended for five years but if people care for it correctly every week, by washing it out and scrubbing the bacteria, it can last a family’s lifetime. Every seven days, you should rinse your filter with 1 liter of clean water and 10 ml of bleach, and scrub all of the bacteria out. This will help increase its longevity and efficiency in use.
And as a personal testament to this filter, Radha said that he owes it his life.
“The filter changed my life and changed the lives of so many people around the world.”
He has been working in this factory for 12 years and has delivered 95,000 filters around the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but has loved working with Wine To Water the most.
“Together, we are going to change the situation around the world.”
-Jaleigh Jensen, W|W social media wizard