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
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
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.