RSSArchive for June, 2012

Retired teacher organizes “Helping Hand Vacations” for youth

There’s something about the Dominican Republic that’s hooked Judy Warrington.

In April, Warrington returned from her 18th trip to the impoverished Caribbean nation, which shares its island landmass with Haiti.

Dominican Republic may be a great spot for a vacation, but that hasn’t been its draw for Warrington.

“Despite the challenges of the rains, roads, lack of infrastructure, lack of hydro, running water, access to medical care, high costs, devaluing peso, they [the people there] still have a joy about them, a spirit about them, and a love of life. A happiness that really extends the warmest welcome to visitors,” she said glowingly.

“We teach our children not to speak to strangers. In the Dominican Republic, it’s the opposite.”

Warrington has always been interested in the service of others, which is why she founded Power Trips, a volunteer-run organization devoted to Dominican Republic’s development. She left her home in Oakville on Good Friday and stayed in the Dominican Republic for more than a month to lead two 14-day trips. The first one consisted of 80 people – 63 of which were students, and the rest, mostly teachers. The second trip attracted 30 participants from Strathscona-Tweedsmuir School in Calgary and Collingwood School in Vancouver.

It was the way the students preferred to spend their March Break.

“I considered coming on this project because I wanted to experience a challenge and make a change. I also felt like it was time to do something useful during my March Break instead of being a tourist in some country,” wrote student Andy Doyle in his assessment of the trip.

It’s a win-win situation.

When Warrington isn’t on the island, she is sending as much as she can in the way of school supplies and medical equipment. With the help of local schools, she’s sent two 40-foot containers. Nothing is too big (or too small)- Warrington will even accept teacher’s desks.

Warrington was introduced to international service opportunities at Appleby College, a member school of the Round Square. Round Square is an organization that leads students on the path to self discovery in ways that extend beyond the walls of the classroom. Warrington went on to lead students on trips to Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Costa Rica.

In 2004, she created Power Trips as a legal entity. She says she chose Dominican Republic because of its closeness, and “the fact that it has as much poverty in some areas as I know there is in Africa.”

“What differentiates us from many other organizations is our interest in empowerment. We don’t want to create dependency on us,” she said.

“We do service that is smart, sensible, and sensible to the local community and its needs, that is going to lead to self-sustainability.”

Warrington is partnered with the Rotary Club of Oakville, as well as local organizations.

“They act as our guides, friends, direct line.”

During her last visit, the teams worked on four extreme school makeovers, including a women’s training centre, which entailed purchasing material locally, renovations, installing security bars and roofs, fixing “banyos” (bathrooms), making blackboards, shelving, painting, decorating, and hiring people to pour concrete floors. Sounds tiring, yes, but for Warrington, a retired teacher, it’s a typical day in the life.

With classes still running in March in the Dominican Republic, she and her volunteers ran tutorials for the children, and created safe children’s play areas – mud playgrounds was all they had.

She also partnered with two leading childcare health providers – The Dominican Institute for Integral Development (IDDI) and The National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI) – to run health clinics. Dominicans were given free medicine, and thousands of toothbrushes and toothpaste were handed out. There was HIV testing, and workshops on the environment, garbage (a problem there) and sexual disease. An eye clinic was set up to identify children with clinical needs, and eyeglasses were distributed.

Dominicans were also given thousands of used soccer balls and uniforms.

Warrington was a teacher for 35 years, mostly in Halton and Peel. She’s taught at elementary school, secondary school, and a commercial re-training program at Sheridan College.

She’s been married for 43 years, and says she’s always been comfortable and privileged.

Her husband, an accountant with his own business, is also involved in her pursuits. He participated in the August project. Her daughter-in-law teaches at the University of Calgary and is hoping to develop a professional education program in the Dominican Republic, in conjunction with the University of Calgary.

Her projects have been a success with students, who accompany her on the trips. They visited a cigar factory, hospital, seniors’ centre, deaf children’s school, clinic and Mirabal Museum, and walked with a refreshed outlook on life.

Warrington no longer stays in hotels with her volunteers. The students weren’t comfortable in the kind of accommodation hotels provide.

“It didn’t fit,” said Warrington. Instead, they stayed at a retreat centre with basic and rustic lodgings. The views, however, were incredible – it’s located on the top of a mountain between Puerto Plata and Sosua.

Local cooks prepared Dominican cuisine during the trip.

“We are very careful about what we eat,” said Warrington.

Perhaps the only complaint the students really had in their evaluations was there weren’t enough vegetables.

Besides that, they walked away with a refreshed outlook on life.

“After this trip, I have a much greater appreciation for how much a small action can affect someone so much. I will also be much more willing to live in the moment and “go with the flow.” I have a feeling that these lessons will stay with me forever,” wrote Elizabeth Watt from St. Clement’s School.

Visit Judy’s PowerTripsInc. web site

Visit the Tubagua retreat centre web site

From The Oakville Beaver, Ontario, Canada
By Joanna Phillips
May 14, 2008

People Making a Difference: Bob Hildreth and Lisa Ballantine

In 1991, Bob Hildreth drilled a well for his new home here. Not long after, people lined up at the spigot alongside his house.
Potable water, he’d discovered, was in short supply.

Eighteen years later – the longest time this former US Army aviator has spent in any one place – Mr. Hildreth devotes half his time to his jewelry business, Joyería las Americas, and the other half getting durable, low-tech water filters into the island’s barrios.

Worldwide, at least 1.1 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization, and 2.4 billion lack basic sanitation. Some 1.8 million people die each year from diarrhea, which has been tied to unsafe drinking water – the majority of them children in developing countries.

Given that these losses are preventable, potable water doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves, says Mark Sobsey, professor of environmental sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Priorities are higher for other development activities than this,” he says. “Sanitation, especially, is not very sexy.”

Even piped-in water isn’t necessarily safe, Hildreth says. In the developed world, constant water pressure keeps whatever’s lurking outside the pipes at bay. In the developing world, however, where power outages are common, water pressure drops and at times even reverses, sucking in raw sewage that’s often outside. When the system begins pumping again, it’s delivering contaminated water.

“Point-of-use water treatment needs to be adopted by all the developing countries in the world,” Hildreth says.

Funded principally by Rotary clubs, his organization – Project las Americas – has delivered 19,000 BioSand filters. One $50 filter cleans 120 gallons of water daily and lasts for decades. In studies, Dr. Sobsey has found that BioSand filters can reduce diarrhea by 47 percent.

“You’re almost certainly reducing mortality,” he says.

Developed in the 1990s by Dr. David Manz, then at the University of Calgary in Alberta, BioSand filters use sand and the bacteria that grow on it to filter water. Users pour water through a diffuser into a gently tapering, belly-high container. (A traditional container made from cement weighs 250 lbs., but a new plastic container weighs just 10 lbs.)

Water passes through 20 inches of sand that comes directly from a quarry. The sand’s tiny cracks and chambers filter out microbes. A layer of “good” bacteria forms at the sand’s surface. This living film feeds on and removes viruses, bacteria, and parasites. “The technology is so robust that you can screw it up, and it will still keep functioning,” Hildreth says.

Two hours inland, in the town of Jarabacoa (pop. 70,000), Lisa Ballantine works on the same problem using a slightly different tool: a ceramic pot filter. Smaller and lighter than the BioSand filter, hers fits into a five-gallon bucket. Pour water into the U-shaped receptacle, and it percolates through porous clay at a rate of two to three quarts per hour. Filters cost $30 to sponsor; Dominicans can buy them directly for $25. “The thing I like about [the] water [problem] is that we can solve it,” she says.

Originally from the Chicago area, Ms. Ballantine came to Jarabacoa as a missionary in 2000. After seeing the poverty surrounding her, she wanted to provide practical help. So after her mission was over, she studied ceramics at Northern Illinois University and, in 2006, she returned with her ceramic pot filter idea.

The basic design is nearly two centuries old. Some 170 years ago, amid concerns about cholera, Queen Victoria asked London’s Royal Doulton china company to design a water filter. Versions of its design are now used in places such as Cambodia and Honduras.

With help from Manny Hernandez, her ceramics mentor at Northern Illinois, Ballantine has improved on the design, she says. Ceramic filters typically are coated with silver particles. The silver’s ionic charge kills microbes on contact. But rather than painting the silver onto the pot, Ballantine mixes it – along with fine sawdust no greater than 1/50th of a human hair in diameter – directly into the clay. The sawdust burns off, leaving minuscule silver-coated chambers. Microbes passing through come into more contact with the silver, and the filter has a much longer life – about five years, she says.

With her partner, Tracy Hawkins, who works in Tanzania, she’s founded Filter Pure. Lifelong potter Radhamés Carela from nearby Moca runs her factory. Their goal: Create a model for making high-quality filters with low-tech equipment that’s exportable anywhere. At full capacity, the factory can produce 1,000 filter per month. So far, she’s given out more than 11,000 filters in the Dominican Republic.

On a sunny March day, Ballantine drives her pickup truck into a muddy, flood-prone neighborhood called “la joya de Jarabacoa.” Today, she’s giving out filters donated by a church in Streamwood, Ill. A jostling crowd of children forms around the truck. Adults emerge from hammered-together shacks to ask for them.

Typically, residents here buy water from passing trucks that sell it in large plastic jugs. The quality of that water can vary greatly.

But with monthly incomes here averaging about $200, buying a $25 filter can still seem too expensive. Resident Estamilado Durán estimates that of the 300 families in the neighborhood, perhaps five or 10 could afford it.

Ballantine is undeterred. The filter may seem expensive, she tells them in Spanish, but if they account for what they spend on bottled water now – $171 per year per family, she estimates – the savings are readily apparent.

By comparison, using a filter would cost a family less than 2 cents per day, she says.