Terri-Jane Yuzda


Teenagers Point Mom Down A New Path

Freelance Columnist


Engineer Now Helps Clean Up the Developing World's Drinking Water

A few years ago, her socially conscious teenagers lit a fire under Camille Dow Baker, P.Eng. With their encouragement, she wound up stepping away from a successful executive career in the energy industry.

Instead, she opted to devote herself to the huge job of bringing clean-water technology to those who need it most: residents of developing countries such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

"My children started questioning me: 'Are you doing the right thing?' "Ms. Dow Baker remembers with a smile. "I was involved with resource extraction in Third World countries and my work led me to some very poor places. You realize eventually that not much of the wealth is ever going to trickle down to the poor people of these regions."

The former Norcen chief reservoir manager (and, subsequently, manager of engineering and operations for AEC International) searched her soul. Then Ms. Dow Baker resigned her post in 1998 and registered at the University of Calgary, where she studied water and sanitation.
Ultimately, she earned a master's degree in environmental design, which she considered the most practical way to put her engineering training to good use.

On Board With A Non-Profit
Before long, she created the Calgary-based Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology and became its president and chief executive. CAWST is a two-year-old, non-profit group that a splendidly simple and efficient water treatment device known as the BioSand water filter.

Developed by Dr. David Manz, P.Eng., of Calgary, these modest, concrete-clad gravel filtration silos are a godsend to families living in regions traditionally plagued by the often-lethal bacteria lurking in untreated drinking water.

BioSand filters aren't the sole answer, Ms. Dow Baker cautions. Chlorination, too, has a major role to play. But even on their own, these inexpensive filters remove most of the pathogens, which contribute to alarmingly high child mortality rates throughout the developing world.

Built from readily available materials such as concrete and plastic tubing, the filters process up to 60 litres of water per hour and are virtually foolproof to assemble and maintain.

"There is no electricity required and the filters use no moving parts," explains CAWST technology director Ron Lentz, P.Eng., who also walked away from a successful oilpatch career. Mr. Lentz now works for considerably less money than he once made - but says the job satisfaction more than makes up for the loss of income.

College Course Offered
Thanks to a generous donation from Petro-Canada, Mr. Lentz also teaches a CAWST-related Mount Royal College extension course, which has generated significant response since its introduction last spring.

"We're partnering with MRC and Petro-Can to develop our training materials," Ms. Dow Baker explains.
Graduates of CAWST's hands-on, work-intensive, four-day course have already introduced BioSand filtration techniques to such countries as India, Pakistan, Guatemala, Kenya and Uganda. This front-line team in turn follows up with its own training programs for local residents.

"The MRC partnership has been a huge boost to us," says Ms. Dow Baker. "It gave us a terrific push and helped build momentum for our training efforts."

That's not all that's happening on the CAWST front. This month, organization reps are in Calgary and Toronto, running a series of training seminars for Canadian non-governmental organizations. This series is sponsored by EnCana.

In Calgary and Toronto, the CAWST people are taking a two-pronged approach. First, they're helping bring the NGOs up to speed on BioSand technology and the finer points of introducing household water-treatment techniques to poor and developing countries.

Perhaps more important, Ms. Dow Baker says, is the chance to talk about technology transfer: the art of teaching local people to train their peers in the use of water sanitation technology.
As for Camille Dow Baker, she's never been happier - or busier. She doesn't miss her high-octane business career. Better still, the kids are back onside.

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