Nearly half the people on our planet do not have safe water to drink. Friendly Water for the World is a nonprofit organization, founded by Quakers, whose mission is to help expand access to low-cost clean water technologies, as well as information about health and sanitation, to people in need. They teach communities how to construct simple biosand water filters, which remove nearly 99% of all parasites, disease and water-borne pathogens.
After acquiring the skills needed to build a water filter, communities can then work autonomously to train their neighbors how to construct these biosand systems. Besides helping people learn how to bring safe drinking water to their families, Friendly Water for the World also supports the formation of independently owned cooperatives, which are able to locally construct more biosand systems for their region. Many of these new small businesses and co-ops are also run by women.
This grassroots water advocacy group has a strong commitment to social justice, and stresses self-sufficiency; they are currently is working on projects in Kenya, Burundi, India, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Uganda, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Honduras.
In Afghanistan, this man demonstrates how much cleaner the local water becomes after being purified through a biosand filter.
This relatively simple water filtration device was developed over two decades ago in Canada, by Dr. David Manz, who patented his life-saving invention, then made it freely available to the world. This video and diagram help to illustrate just how the low-tech biosand water filters actually work:
Earlier this month I met with one of the founders of Friendly Water for the World, David Albert. He explained how the organization came into being, and shared some amazing personal stories about their transformative work. He told me about a group of widows who were now working together with former child soldiers to bring clean water to their village, and many other amazing clean water successes from across the globe.
A biosand water filter can be built for around $50, and will last a family for decades, without maintenance. David confessed that it actually brings him great joy to raise funds for these important projects, and that he loves helping to direct human energy into such vital life-saving endeavors.
Friendly Water for the World has three biosand water filter trainings scheduled over the next few months in Washington and Oregon; there is still time to register to learn how to build this simple water purification system. The workshops include six days of classroom and hands-on instruction in creating a biosand water filter, as well as other related lessons and useful skills.
June 26-July 1 training in Olympia, Washington
August 21-26 training in Anacortes, Washington
September 29-October 3 training in Newberg, Oregon
Through their ongoing dedication and hard work, the Washington based clean water advocacy group strives to:
• Find practical methods of addressing water as an emerging issue of global importance
• Build relationships with individuals and communities in other parts of the world in need of environmentally sensitive clean water technologies and sound economic development
• Empower people to take charge of their water quality
• Provide useful skills to Friends and others as they go out into the world, and encouraging multigenerational opportunities
• Set up mentoring relationships among concerned Friends both in the U.S. and abroad, and finding ways for individuals from different parts of the Quaker tradition to work together
• Build local and transnational communities
all images are via Friendly Water for the World
Incredibly, some cities in Spain are now fining people who search through dumpsters for food the equivalent of nearly $1000; while elsewhere, other communities are beginning to understand the power inherent in salvaging and reusing resources gleaned from our garbage.
Brooklyn’s Prospect Park neighbors have an unspoken agreement: give freely and you shall receive freely. You can walk towards the coffee shop and easily find clothes, furniture, books, and toys on the street along the way. If you want to take anything, you can, as long as you then put out stuff of your own for others to take. Saturday mornings are the peak of abundance — everyone sits out on their stoops and sells their old junk for cheap prices or just gives it out for free. On top of the enjoyment they find in communal living, these traders share the belief that generosity is the most sustainable and rewarding lifestyle.
However in Spain, such understandings are not so common. I might occasionally find some outdated books or edible fruit from grocery stores in my neighborhood, but it is still rare; the idea of leaving things on the street for others is highly suspicious, and people prefer to donate to churches or social centers. In addition, looking through garbage is stigmatized anywhere you go. Those who dig through other people’s waste are often thought to be dirty and classless criminals.
According to the European Commission of Statistics, each individual in Spain generates 1.5 tons of waste in one year, excluding mineral waste. An average hippopotamus weighs that much, as does a typical car. That’s a lot of garbage, and a lot of it can be rescued and reused. But since 2009, dumpster diving hasn’t been an option for those of us living in Spain. Not only because it’s stigmatized, but because there is actually a law against it.
Madrid was the first province to implement a law that forbids rummaging through garbage bins. Others have followed, such as the southern province of Almería, which in this past year has fined over 40 people. In Spain’s capital city, an individual could be forced to pay a penalty of 750 euros, or $981, simply for searching for food in a trash bin.
Madrid’s environmental delegate, Ana Botella (who is also the former president’s wife), proclaimed that:
“I refuse to live in a city and in a society in which I am forced to accept that there are people who go rummaging in the garbage to eat. The Town Hall has to ensure the sanitary conditions of the city. Unfortunately, the destruction of a million jobs in one year is creating new social profiles, but the social service network offers resources for them.”
In response to this, Raquel López, spokesperson of an oppositional party, stated that she considers the fine “scandalous, embarrassing, and unsupportive“. In response to Botella, she raised this pertinent question:
“Maybe one should ask, why some citizens of our city see no other option than to go inside a garbage bin in order to subsist. Unfortunately, not only are we talking about the homeless but also about a lot of elderly people who find they have to look through garbage to get clothes or other utensils.”
Impoverished immigrants are not the only people who scavenge in the dumpsters. While the economic crisis and the exorbitant 26% unemployment rate here in Spain is now forcing many to find their daily necessities in the cheapest way possible; others have historically turned to dumpsters as a more sustainable alternative to consumerism and wasteful living. It’s unfortunate that this group of people is left out of the debate, because we could all benefit from sharing our resources, as well as being more thoughtful of what we throw away.
Fining dumpster divers surely does not seem like a measure that would either help our economic situation or create more sustainable alternatives. Does the Spanish government just want us to be poor and prodigal?
image by Dominique Faget via actualidad.rt.com
Are you curious where your state currently stands on legal marijuana? It seems like each month another legislature decides to decriminalize pot possession or improve access to medical cannabis. Fortunately, to help us keep the changing legal status of pot straight, Rolling Stone has just published an excellent interactive map which clearly illustrates all of the different cannabis laws in each of our US states.
The status of weed is fairly extreme in our country — ranging from fully legal marijuana in Washington and Colorado, to, well, potheads should definitely consider avoiding the super sketchy state of Texas. That bright red region arrested more people for cannabis related offenses than any other state in the union; and nearly half of all drug arrests in Texas were just for simple marijuana possession.
In a huge victory for both clean energy and environmental advocates, the Edison Power Company announced on Friday that its troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant will be permanently shuttered.
The crippled, aging facility is nestled on Southern California’s coast, and has already been out of commission for over a year, after some of the station’s newly replaced steam generator tubes were found to be leaking clouds of radiation into the atmosphere. It had also been discovered that hundreds of the nuclear plant’s new tubes were inexplicably corroding and wearing out at an unusually fast rate.
The costs of maintaining the crumbling nuclear facility proved to be too much, and Edison has decided to cut its losses. This largely economic decision is not surprising, considering that for several years the cost of solar energy has already become far cheaper to produce than nuclear power — and that does not even include the enormous future expenses associated with “safely” storing tons of spent radioactive nuclear waste.
I grew up not far from the San Onofre nuclear site; the plant’s menacing concrete twin domes are situated just a few miles from my mother’s home. In fact, less than two years ago we were also witness to a massive nearly 2-day international power blackout that was related to the dysfunctional nuclear facility. I must confess that I am completely thrilled and relieved that this treacherous radioactive ticking time bomb is finally going to be closed for good.
top image via www.facebook.com/carol.jahnkow bottom San Onofre nuclear plant image taken in 2010
This week the California State Senate approved seven related gun control bills, which include universal background checks for anyone who wishes to purchase ammunition. People in the state who have a criminal record, severe mental illness, or a restraining order filed against them, would also be disqualified from owning guns. More than 9 in ten people across the United States already strongly support universal background checks for all weapons purchases.
In addition to mandating that all ammunition sales in the state be safely regulated, the proposed gun control legislation also allows the Department of Justice to maintain a list of qualified buyers that could be checked by ammunition dealers in California. Initially anyone who wants to buy bullets would pay a fifty dollar fee, and would then have to show a valid ID thereafter.
“…to ensure that criminals and other dangerous individuals cannot purchase ammunition in the state of California. To purchase a product that has the potential to maim or kill another human being you can [now] walk into a gun store, no questions asked; I think that’s a little outrageous.”
Bills were also approved in the California Senate that forbid the sale, purchase and manufacture of semiautomatic rifles which allow detachable magazines, as well as ban all ammunition cartridges that contain more than 10 bullets. All of the proposed legislation will next be considered in the State Assembly.
Congressional news conference photo by Rich Pedroncelli
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has just introduced the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act, legislation which would allow students to refinance their college debt at a much lower fixed rate of interest. These reforms are especially needed now, because in July student loan rates in the US are set to double to nearly 7%. Strangely, this is also happening at a time when our government continues to allow billionaire Wall Street bankers to borrow money for a small fraction of that cost.
This important legislation could potentially save students billions in education debt, and would also function as a massive economic stimulus. Research from the Center for American Progress found that such proposed student loan refinancing would increase disposable income nationwide by an estimated $14.5 billion in just the first year.
The Huffington Post recently reported details of the senator’s bill, which would mandate that the U.S. Secretary of Education immediately refinance nearly 90% of all existing federally backed student loans:
The plan sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) would force the U.S. Secretary of Education to automatically refinance most government loans carrying interest rates above 4 percent into fixed, 4-percent loans. Roughly nine of 10 federally-backed loans would be affected, saving nearly 37 million borrowers billions of dollars in annual interest payments.
“At a time when corporations, homeowners and even local governments are refinancing at historically low-interest rates and saving millions of dollars, students and families who take out loans to pay for college are getting left behind,” Gillibrand said. “Ensuring that our graduates are not saddled with unmanageable debt by keeping interest rates low is just common sense.”
Senator Gillibrand photo by Alex Wong
It’s 5 o’clock, and Yasmina is running late for her after school drawing and painting class. She quickly grabs her watercolors, kisses her mother, and runs out the door. The public school is in the neighborhood, so luckily she doesn’t have far to go. She walks in the classroom and sees her four female classmates; but what you might not realize, is that Yasmina and her fellow students are all defying their culture’s norms just by showing up to their art class today.
Yasmina is 12 years old and is a Gypsy; her people are also known as Roma or Gitano. According to the Spanish census, the Roma population here is around 650,000; but this group is frequently wrongly stereotyped as uneducated and criminally inclined.
In Spain this community is extremely marginalized and oppressed — perhaps out of fear, but more likely out of ignorance. Some Spaniards incorrectly believe that all Gypsies only deal drugs and steal. In fact, many gypsies are often business entrepreneurs, working as traveling salespeople in public markets, while others labor as scrap collectors, or unappreciated recyclers.
But today Yasmina is still a student in Otxarkoaga’s public school, although she may not remain one for long. Since attending school might encourage interacting with boys and facing temptation, girls are often discouraged from continuing their education once they have reached a marriageable age. It is not that young women are expressly forbidden to go to school, bust most of their parents did not complete their studies, so they sometimes do not really see the point of it all.
In the traditional Roma culture, commonly girls were married off between the ages of 12 and 14, but now the appropriate age to wed is considered to be between 15 and 19 years of age. All girls are expected to comply with several honor codes to prove their loyalty and respect towards their future husband, such as not going out unaccompanied or wearing bikinis. Females are also subjected to a virginity test, or “prueba del pañuelo“.
Yasmina’s parents have allowed her go to this after school activity because they were assured only other Gitana girls were attending; the education has helped this aspiring young artist to remain hopeful:
“I really like coming to this class. I’m not a good painter yet, but maybe someday I will be. I really like it.”
When I asked her what she thought about dropping out of school, she stated that she didn’t want to; as she looked at the floor and smiled, she replied:
“Maybe I can go to school and have a family also. I really like seeing my friends and learning things like math and history. I also want to get married, but not yet! What if my husband us ugly?”
As Westerners, we often assume that such gender related restrictions only happen in remote Asian or African countries, but not here in “civilized” and “developed” regions. Too often we can take the right for girls to access education for granted, and wrongly assume that all women are actually allowed to live freely and marry whomever they choose.
Who would have thought that a single art class could reveal to me so much about our ignorance?
image of girls in a Chilean Gitano community by Carles Cerulla
Senator Elizabeth Warren has introduced her first bill, which allows for college students to borrow money at the same low rate of interest which Wall Street banks enjoy. Why would billionaire bankers be given a much more favorable loan rate than poor, struggling students? That is a very good question that the senior senator from Massachusetts has been asking.
Inexplicably, the US Congress is poised to allow our nation’s student loan interest rate to double to almost 7 percent, while huge banks are lent taxpayer money at a rate of less than 1 percent. Warren explained that the rate that students are being charged:
“…is nine times higher than the rate at which the government loans money to the big banks…The federal government is profiting off loans to our young people while giving a far better deal to the same Wall Street banks that crashed our economy and destroyed millions of jobs.
That’s why I’ve introduced the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act as my first bill in the Senate: To allow students to borrow money at the same rate as the biggest banks. Why should the big banks get a nearly-free ride while people trying to get an education pay nine times more? It isn’t right.”
Warren reminds me of the insightful child who is repeatedly pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. The simple honest powerful words that Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks shine like brilliant undeniable earnest truths, clearly illuminating a thick dank sea of opaque political quagmire. How could anyone argue that the banking industry, which nearly bankrupt our nation, somehow deserves lower money lending rates than hard-working college students?
image via Unreal Americans
Recently I was listening to an engrossing radio interview with the visionary economist and author, Gar Alperovitz, as he was discussing his new book, What Then Must We Do?, which highlights the rise of cooperatives, worker ownership and the restructuring of our failing economy from the bottom up. The fact that this volume shares a title with the 19th century classic by Tolstoy, gives an indication of the scope and influence of this important work.
During the interview with Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, Alperovitz explained how economically stratified our nation has become, and illustrated just how distorted the distribution of wealth now is:
”400 people currently hold more wealth in this country than the bottom 180 million people. . . I threw that out in a lecture at one point, and some, in the question and answer period — I said that’s medieval, and some medieval scholar said, no, no, it was never that concentrated in medieval times.”
Even though income inequality is more extreme now than it has ever been, who owns the wealth is starting to shift. Currently, over 140 million people in the United States are already involved in credit unions and cooperatives. Alperovitz explained that with the increasing rise of collectives and worker owned business, like the Evergreen greenhouse co-ops in Cleveland, there is now a rapidly expanding decentralized collective approach that is changing both business creation and ownership across our nation.
Women began cycling during the late 1800s, and were often met with fierce derision because they defied and threatened the oppressive social norms dictating that they must stay at home. The advent of the bicycle meant that girls were liberated to direct their own movement freely and unaccompanied. Females abandoned their ridiculously heavy skirts and corsets and started wearing “bloomers,” or loose fitted pants; but this new-found freedom and blatant dress code violations came at a price.
In the 19th century the bicycle was deemed inappropriate; women who rode were ridiculed, verbally assaulted, and sometimes even fined for being so “scandalous“. These pedal revolutionaries were considered indecent, crude, and smutty. According to writer Clare S. Simpson, women who rode bikes were:
“…far from respectable: not exactly prostitutes, perhaps, but possibly women of loose morals or with an undeveloped sense of propriety.”
But this is outdated history, right?
While I was riding my bike last month a man screamed that he would rather put me in his sandwich instead of the “chorizo” he was eating. A week later another male whistled and hooted that I was “beautiful” and “hot”. Many of my male friends have posters of bicycles and women depicted in awkward sexy positions with contrived pouting sultry faces. They often pose with high heels, short shorts, skimpy tank tops, make up caked on and stylized hair. These images are overtly sexualized, and somewhat ludicrous. I mean, why would anyone wear high heels to ride a bicycle?
These images are problematic because they create an unrealistic standard to which every woman is expected to aspire. Many men who observe females riding bicycles do not see a sensible sustainable method of transportation, but instead instantly objectify us, and seem to think that we are merely some sex toy that is bent over for their pleasure and amusement.
When we ride are we expected to be like those overtly feminine poster girls? We can’t sweat, can’t mess up our hair, can’t have runny eyeliner and can’t even fall down, because bruises are unattractive and not lady-like. When we challenge society’s gender rules we are then frequently masculinized, and considered to be “bad-ass” and “one of the boys”.
But patriarchal hegemony wants us to believe that our value lies only in being attractive to men, so we fight against being strong and capable, and instead strive to be superficially idolized, like the silly women in these illustrations. In 1896, the activist Susan B Anthony stated that bicycling:
“…has done more to emancipate women than any single other thing in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”
This is still true in many cases. Many girls in India now have a chance to go to school because of access to free bicycles. Females in Nepal have a lower risk of being raped due to the freedom provided by bicycles.
Cycling also helps the body stay fit and is environmentally friendly, and provides numerous benefits that allow for self autonomy, mobility, and health, all factors that help our society to evolve and improve. Although when I am riding my bike, some days it still feels like some people do not understand just how truly liberating riding a bicycle can be.
top bicycle image via ArtCrank poster show pin-up illustration by Harry Ekman b& w bike photo via Rhonda Winter