Friday, October 5, 2012

WASH Social Marketing – the ongoing challenge with Biosand Filters

 It’s time for another post about Biosand filters.  I started writing about these in January 2011 with this simple introduction:

I went on in the following months to write several more times about our work with the Biosand Filter, and if you’re real interested you can read the whole thread here (from newest to oldest):

Well, one of the points that came out clearly in last week’s WASH forum is that our donor organization (that put on the forum) wants us to keep trying to get our Biosand Filters to sell in the private market.  The new concept is; “WASH Social Marketing,” which is closely related to another key concept: “Demand-Led WASH,” which is the opposite of “Supply-Driven WASH.”  Are you getting lost in the concept slogans?  Basically, the idea is to move away from plopping down free solutions (supplies), but instead stimulate social interest and demand in something that the local market can produce and sustain.  Yes, we agree with this, but, (sigh) it has been more difficult than planned.

Perhaps our biggest challenge is that we could not control the practice of other NGOs that distributed Biosand Filters (BSFs) in our province in the past 2 years.  They have distributed thousands of BSFs free, without training, without follow-up support, and without monitoring and evaluation.  As a result, many BSFs cracked in transportation and broke a brief time after use.  Many of the BSFs had been installed incorrectly, or could not be maintained because no one knew how.  One village said, “forget the sand filtration” and emptied their BSFs so that they could be used as gravity water spouts to clean dirty diapers!  This is a classic aid project that has failed everywhere but on the written report that says the distributed X filters.  So sad for the people that needed clean water and didn’t get it.  Now because there are so many broken and useless filters around, we do not have as much interest from communities, even though we do extensive monitoring and evaluation and over 90% of our filters are still in service. 

Another big challenge has been that marketing promotions have been difficult and confusing.  Some communities have misunderstood our attempts to promote an independent factory, and believed that we were somehow profiting from the filter sales at the factory.  Clearly, we are now at a point that promotion must be done by the independent factory mason, not by our NGO project staff.   The question is, will he rise to the occasion and work hard to sell his product?  He hasn’t needed to yet, because the orders that the project buys from his factory have been enough to sustain him.  As we push for more private market growth, we’ll have to shrink our orders from him, and encourage him to go after the additional sales he needs.  We have marketing resources we can give him: business cards, posters, radio ads, even a glass-front BSF.  Hopefully he will take our resources and be encouraged to go out and promote the BSF to communities that really need them.  I’m sure this is not the end of the BSF story…

Freedom is meant to be put to use

 I’m reading an excellent book right now titled “Good News About Injustice” by Gary Haugen.  I would recommend it to any of you.  Today I want to share an excerpt from the book, and then add my comments:

“A preacher once asked me (and the rest of the congregation) to consider a scene that has stayed with me ever since.  He asked us to recall the story about the feeding of the five thousand.  The disciples brought complaints about the hungry multitude to Jesus, and he responded compassionately by blessing the bits of food from a boy’s lunch- five loaves of bread and two fishes.  ‘Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They ate and all were satisfied’ (Mt 14:19-20).  The speaker then asked us to imagine a scenario in which the disciples just kept thanking Jesus for all the bread and fish – without passing them along to the people.  He asked us to imagine the disciples starting to be overwhelmed by the piles of multiplying loaves and fish surrounding them, yelling out to Jesus, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!’ – all the while never passing along the food to people.  And beneath the mounting piles of food, the disciples even could be heard complaining to Jesus that he wasn’t doing anything about the hungry multitude.”  (Haugen, page 115).

A stunning picture isn’t it?  Prior to telling this story the author tries to convey that sometimes we pray and wish that God would do something about the ills of the world, but we don’t realize that we have a role to play; we need to use the gifts and abilities he gives us to join him in serving and helping others. 

The quote I copied strikes at the point of material surplus, and we can easily take that and think, “we are blessed with more than enough, we should give.”  I am personally so blessed that a number of people accept this conviction and then support us financially to do our work of service here.  The author takes the story a different direction, however, and points out that we can do something with our surplus of freedoms as well.  He tells the story of a 12-year-old Filipina girl who is raped, and although there are witnesses and an arrest warrant, the offender is not imprisoned because he has connections with the local police.  We can quickly say that this would not happen in America, because of the well-established rule of law our free country provides.  We have a lot of freedoms that much of the rest of the world does not enjoy.  Perhaps I could say that if the fish of Mt 14 were freedoms, we would be covered in a stinky heap.  The disciples recognized that the fish they were given were meant to be passed on.  The work of justice, just like the work of charity and service, is recognizing that what we have been given enables us to meet needs of others; we are to pass on the blessing.  Unfortunately I think justice often gets left behind, because unlike charity and service, justice can require more difficult interventions.  Consider it though, we’re dripping with freedom, shouldn’t we be determined to: “Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”? (Is. 1:17)

The news

The first week of my solo trip is nearly over, and I have had a great time.  The WASH forum went extremely well, and I will summarize my learning points soon.  For this post, I’d like to briefly share some of what is going on here, both good and bad.

Let’s start with the bad, so that you know it will end on a brighter note!

The bad news is that several of the brothers or believers are struggling through some difficult situations.  One of them has been caught lying to try to get ahead.  Another has claimed that he is experiencing persecution and needs money to move to another part of the country.  Friends that have been working with him more closely believe this is also a lie and attempt to get quick cash in order to pay a debt.  A third brother has been behaving badly in response to missing a job opportunity, again because of lies.  He is not owning this mistake, instead he is blaming the other brothers, and he has even threatened in anger to cause persecution to fall on those brothers.  All three of these situation (that are a bit interwoven) are very sad, and something to pray about for sure.

On to better news:

For the first 4 nights of my time here, I stayed in a house with several local staff, and we had some great discussions.  There were no believers among them, but as I suspected, being away from their home community and in a safe place with me, we had some unusual and interesting discussion.  One of them said that he has announced recently to the rest of the office staff that he will no longer pray, because he feels that god is not close to him at all.  Another one said that he was 20 years behind on his prayers, and he was not going to attempt to make up for that lost time.  These are just two examples of the interesting discussions we had, which I cannot go into with much more detail here.  It was very encouraging to spend those evenings with them; it was great to see that we do, in fact, as foreigners have quite a significant influence on the people that we work with over months and years.   Even people that act calloused and hard when we are in their home community and they are surrounded by such a culture of suspicion and conservatism, they soften up and reveal the influence we have had on them when we have some time away from home with them. 

Another exciting news was that I gained a positive friendship with one of the men I translated for over the course of the weeks’ meetings.  We had never met, but by the last day he trusted me enough to confess his faith to me, and ask me to remember his family in prayer.  I found something bold and powerful in his confession of faith, and hope and trust that his walk will be boosted by taking that courage.

Yet another encouragement from the past week was that scripture stories were shared during our meetings, and the spiritually-wide-ranged audience received them well.  Participants from a neighboring nation (where there is an acknowledged population of believers) included the story of the prodigal son, and one other parable, in their presentations on the ethics of our work.  Pray that those subtle messages can sink down deep in the hearts of those that needed to hear them.

The last news for today might be considered good or bad, or perhaps an opportunity for either.  The talk among foreign teammates here is that the country to our west is going through a period of religious curiousity about end times.  Their leader has made some bold statements, which if carried out, would cause cataclysmic violence.  Apparently this has caused the public there to press their religious leaders with eschatological questions, and that has become a big theme in religious teaching.  This has filtered over the border to us here, where students and youth are asking foreigners these questions as well.   Like I said, is this good news or bad news?  Let’s pray it is opportunity for very good changes in the individuals who are inquiring.

That’s all the news for now, stay tuned…