Imagine your drinking water is contaminated with dangerous bacteria typically found in the sewer. One swig could make you violently ill or lead to long-term health complications. While an unpleasant thought, for people in certain parts of the world, this is their reality.
According to the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, 800 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean drinking water and there are four billion diarrheal cases each year. Approximately 1.8 million people die because of consequences of contaminated drinking water, whereby 90 percent are children under the age of 5.
Children who contract several diarrheal diseases can experience a decrease in cognitive abilities, according to the Institute.
In countries like Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma) and Kenya, contaminated drinking water is a big problem.
Not one to sit on the sidelines, Lukas Graf, who works as a laboratory assistant at CSL Behring’s leading-edge manufacturing facility in Bern, Switzerland, had an idea.
“I thought, we could give children in South East Asia access to clean drinking water by using fully functional and safe, but discarded, filters,” Lukas said. “These filters are discarded for minor reasons – such as having the wrong serial number. By donating and helping to install these filters - we could give children the chance to have clean drinking water, which may help improve their lives.”
He ran the idea by CSL Behring site leadership, which emphatically gave the go-ahead to proceed.
"I was convinced of the matter and sought contact with PALL, a CSL Behring supplier, who then generously agreed to provide us with the filters. The organization he founded, Warm Blankets Switzerland, is helping improve lives around the world,” said Arnold Nigsch, Senior Director, Engineering Services.
Warm Blankets supports sustainable projects for widows and in orphanages in Cambodia, Myanmar and Kenya, as well as a high school in Kenya, which allows children to complete their education after compulsory education. The aim of Warm Blankets is to provide orphaned children with a new, safe home, healthy food and education.
Lukas traveled to Cambodia where he installed about 30 filters to date in orphan homes to help purify their water. Teaching local people “how to fish” – through his organization -- he offers training in water purification and filter building so that folks can install the filters themselves once needed.
The Mission Begins
For Lukas, this journey to change lives through clean water began in 2014. He went to 15 different children’s homes in Cambodia. Lukas was accompanied by Makara who works for Foursquare Children of Promise (FCOPI), a local NGO which takes care of orphan children. Along with Makara`s help, they tested the water for bacteria and other impurities.
“The tested water quality is so bad, that we would not even brush our teeth with it,” Lukas said.
In many of these homes the groundwater is pumped up and stored in tanks or clay pots. Unfortunately, the well is often in the vicinity of the toilets or a fish pond (example in the photo below). Sometimes there isn’t a well on the property; the home collects roof water in the rainy season. In the dry season they rely on fish ponds or rivers.
Constructing the First Bacteria Filter
In 2016 Lukas constructed and installed 10 bacteria filters from Switzerland. The filters are produced by PALL which now supplies Lukas with discarded filters directly. With local volunteers and staff from FCOPI Lukas constructed a design, so that the entire filter housing can be manufactured and installed in Cambodia. After one year of use, he went again to Cambodia to check the filters and the water quality. He was delighted to discover that they were working better than expected. In addition the Cambodians had installed many more filters in the year he was away.
Except for the inner membrane which is donated by PALL, the entire filter is constructed in Cambodia with new, locally purchased materials.
The project has now expanded to other locations in Myanmar and last November he helped install the first purifying filter in a children’s home in Kenya.
In 2017 PALL generously donated six palettes of filters. At the moment, Lukas’ organization has about five palettes of filters “in stock” and he and his wife will travel to Cambodia this year to help equip more children’s home with filters. Their hope is that they can see every single filter of their stock installed in places where they are needed in the next two years.
“Lukas Graf demonstrates how little things can make a big difference,” said Arnold Nigsch, Senior Director, Engineering Services. “He is fully committed to helping save lives – both through his work at CSL Behring and through his initiatives in South East Asia. With his pioneering thinking and his engagement and commitment he created a sustainable but simple way these children in developing countries can drink clean water – with a promising future.”
Warm Blankets Switzerland http://www.warmblankets.ch/en/welcome/
Construction 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEXvarPxDcM&t=
Animation on how filters work : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxFEV3ph51w