Challenge Poverty (with Save the Children)

The Pond Sand Filter (Save the Children USA)

Choosing has always been the hardest part of this project. I’ve tried my best to share all the emotions I’ve had during this project like the joy of helping children in the Hill-Tracts, or the anguish and sense of powerlessness during Cyclone Sidr disaster relief, or the craziness involved in reaching some remote rural village. With this latest video, I’m sharing the toughest reality of this project: being forced to choose.

With this video, there is no wrong answer – only tough choices.

More after the jump.

There are a total of five options but there is only enough money to do maybe two or three of them. The options are:

  • Build a Deep-Tube Well *
  • Build a Pond-Sand Filter (aka PSF or Biosand Filter) *
  • Buy 80 Salter Scales **
  • Build a School Latrine *
  • Repair a School Damaged by Cyclone Sidr ***

I haven’t listed prices but I have put a * star to indicate 1/3rd of the budget. So, the school repair would take up 100% of the budget (***), 80 Salter Scales would take up 2/3rds of the budget (**), and a School Latrine, Pond Sand Filter, and a Deep Tube Well each cost approximately 1/3rd of the budget (*).

The reason I am not mentioning the prices is because, with the downturn in the global economy, the price of raw materials is rising everyday. I’ve accounted for that and have budgeted for price changes. The other big reason I’m not mentioning prices is that I’m not trying to use this as an appeal for more money.

In fact, even if I could do all five, there are tons of things I saw out there that are equally as important. We will always be forced to choose…

Option #1 The Deep Tube Well

The Deep Tube Well

If you are going to get water from underground water sources, you need a deep tube well. It’s called “deep” because you literally need to drill quite a bit underground. This particular deep tube well reaches to an underground water source 1,000 feet underground. You need to drill that deep because the water just underground is full of salt.

The Big Upside: Deep tube well have been around for ages. They are the most reliable way to get clean and safe drinkable water. It’s also rather cheap – potentially using only 1/3rd of the budget I’ve got for this region.

The Big Downside: Underground water in this region has heavy iron deposits. The water comes out reddish. It’s safe to drink but you can’t use it for cooking (as it spoils a lot of food).

This option touches upon (in one way or another) on the following Millennium Development Goals:

Option #2 The Pond Sand Filter

Local Villager Pumps Water into the Pond Sand Filter (Save the Children USA)

A lot of people bathe and drink from pond water instead. Pond water doesn’t have the iron problem found in the deep tube well, but pond water can often be full of bacteria, worms, and dangerous parasites. Save the Children helps to make pond water safe with something called the Pond Sand Filter.

The Big Upside: It’s a proven way of providing water that is not only safe to drink but also safe to cook with. The pumping system is also the easiest I’ve ever seen.

The Big Downside: Pond sand filters are a filter-based system. And like any filter, sooner or later, you’ll need to repair and/or replace it. Save the Children USA tells me their pond sand filters last a minimum of two years – that’s a long time, but it’s not permanent.

This option touches upon (in one way or another) on the following Millennium Development Goals:

Option #3: Buy 80 Salter Scales

Mother Cradles Her Child

I’m sure you already know the depressing facts about how many children die in the developing world each day. It’s true that between pregnancy and the age of five is the most vulnerable time due to disease and malnutrition. Save the Children is trying to fight infant and child mortality with a program called “Survive To 5”. This program needs weighing scales (called Salter Scales) in order to monitor the weight and development of babies.

The Big Upside: Monitoring weight is a simple but critical part of preventing child and infant mortality.

The Big Downside: Even though any one Salter Scale isn’t that expensive, Save the Children has specifically requested 80 because they want to ensure fair treatment and distribution. They don’t want mothers going to one medical center and not the other because one center has a Salter Scale and another doesn’t. So either we help everyone or none at all.

This option touches upon (in one way or another) on the following Millennium Development Goals:

Option #4: Build a School Latrine

When I was in high school, I knew a lot of people that didn’t care to use the bathrooms at school. That’s fine when you have running water and a bathroom back home. But, in rural areas like Barguna, the bathroom facilities at school are usually the only proper facilities many children have access to.

The Big Upside: A school latrine is an easy way to make sure a school is a healthy place.

The Big Downside: The only real downside is public perception. People can brag about sponsoring a child. Building a bathroom? Ehh… not so much.

This option touches upon (in one way or another) on the following Millennium Development Goals:

Option #5: Help Rebuild a School Damaged by Cyclone Sidr

The Old Classroom

There are a lot of emotions tied to this option. It’s shocking to see a school remain in disrepair so long after Cyclone Sidr hit. It’s depressing to think that children still go to this place to study – even though not a single classroom is usable. It’s also frustrating knowing that – in order to make significant repairs to this school – all the other options would have to be forfeited.

Repairing a school – like this co-ed secular junior high school is one of the options available as part of this operation. But, the downside is that it would take up the entirety of the budget I’ve made.

This option touches upon (in one way or another) on the following Millennium Development Goals:

Cyclone Sidr Damaged School

How To Vote:

Leave a comment on YouTube or make video response to this video. Video responses preferred 🙂

31 Responses to “Challenge Poverty (with Save the Children)”


  1. 1 Will Matheson

    Psst… “Option #2: The Pond Sand Filter” =)

  2. 2 Will Matheson

    Psst… “Option #2: The Pond Sand Filter” =)

  3. 3 Sumaya

    Repair a School Damaged by Cyclone Sidr

  4. 4 Sumaya

    Repair a School Damaged by Cyclone Sidr

  5. 5 Kelsey

    Repair the school

  6. 6 Kelsey

    Repair the school

  7. 7 Shawn

    Hey Sumaya, Will, and Kelsey – thanks for your comments guys. I was hoping to keep all the voting in one spot. Would you guys be able to comment on the YouTube video? If not that’s fine. But if anyone else is reading this – please consider voting on YouTube by comment or video response 🙂

  8. 8 Shawn

    Hey Sumaya, Will, and Kelsey – thanks for your comments guys. I was hoping to keep all the voting in one spot. Would you guys be able to comment on the YouTube video? If not that’s fine. But if anyone else is reading this – please consider voting on YouTube by comment or video response 🙂

  9. 9 Sumaya

    Not a problem Shawn. Are you back in Canada?

  10. 10 Sumaya

    Not a problem Shawn. Are you back in Canada?

  11. 11 Cal

    Shawn — I’m impressed with the efforts you’re making to help improve peoples’ lives. Keep up the good work.

  12. 12 Cal

    Shawn — I’m impressed with the efforts you’re making to help improve peoples’ lives. Keep up the good work.

  13. 13 Owen

    Hope you don’t mind if I put it here, Shawn, just disregard if its inconveninet. I’d go for the pond sand filter. The health of the whole community will benefit. Hopefully the gains from less sickness will enable the community to take on the task of replacing the filters on a long-term basis. This might also be a useful community-building exercise.

    I think what you’ve done here is an excellent insight into the issues of priorities and project evaluation and comparison, particularly as you link the projects into the MDGs.

    You’ve had an excellent response from Save The Children, but how much is this due to the fact that you’ve been able to build a relationship with them from the ground up and establish your credentials that way. They know how they can work with you.

    You have to bear in mind that other organisations often take a long time to work out what they’re going to do and the offer of outside help isn’t always an uncomplicated blessing. What happens, say, if you’ve worked out your priorities and say I turn up full of enthusiasm to take up one of the projects that you’ve decided hasn’t got into the frame?

  14. 14 Owen

    Hope you don’t mind if I put it here, Shawn, just disregard if its inconveninet. I’d go for the pond sand filter. The health of the whole community will benefit. Hopefully the gains from less sickness will enable the community to take on the task of replacing the filters on a long-term basis. This might also be a useful community-building exercise.

    I think what you’ve done here is an excellent insight into the issues of priorities and project evaluation and comparison, particularly as you link the projects into the MDGs.

    You’ve had an excellent response from Save The Children, but how much is this due to the fact that you’ve been able to build a relationship with them from the ground up and establish your credentials that way. They know how they can work with you.

    You have to bear in mind that other organisations often take a long time to work out what they’re going to do and the offer of outside help isn’t always an uncomplicated blessing. What happens, say, if you’ve worked out your priorities and say I turn up full of enthusiasm to take up one of the projects that you’ve decided hasn’t got into the frame?

  15. 15 Owen

    By the way, that photograph of the boy with the water coming from the pipe is superb. That would do any clean water campaign proud.

  16. 16 Owen

    By the way, that photograph of the boy with the water coming from the pipe is superb. That would do any clean water campaign proud.

  17. 17 Shawn

    Hey Owen, in reply to your first comment. You mean what happens if you want to fund one of the options that I don’t do?

    And, yeah, working with an NGO is always more complicated than going it alone. But, then again, organizations can do large scale stuff that I simply can’t. I seriously doubt I could have even dreamt of building a pond sand filter on my own 🙂

  18. 18 Shawn

    Hey Owen, in reply to your first comment. You mean what happens if you want to fund one of the options that I don’t do?

    And, yeah, working with an NGO is always more complicated than going it alone. But, then again, organizations can do large scale stuff that I simply can’t. I seriously doubt I could have even dreamt of building a pond sand filter on my own 🙂

  19. 19 Owen

    What I was getting at is – an organisation that has to plan its work works out its priorities. For example in a certain area it knows it can only supervise the implementation of one project, it has made the decision to go for a particular project rather than others on its wish list, and then along comes an enthusiast wanting to support one of the projects that didn’t make it and offers to fund it. But how is implementing the second project going to be supervised?

    That’s a dilemma that big organisations have to cope with because they can’t just go from project to project on an ad hoc basis. That’s what I mean by the offer of outside support can be a mixed blessing.

    However an organisation really worth its salt ought to be willing to put the limited amount of effort needed into explaining the situation to the frustrated donor, and hopefully build a realtionship that will bear fruit in the future.

    I speak as someone who’s been on both the giving and the receiving end of impractical good ideas (though fortunately not having to make the sometimes literally life and death choices that an aid agency has to make)

  20. 20 Owen

    What I was getting at is – an organisation that has to plan its work works out its priorities. For example in a certain area it knows it can only supervise the implementation of one project, it has made the decision to go for a particular project rather than others on its wish list, and then along comes an enthusiast wanting to support one of the projects that didn’t make it and offers to fund it. But how is implementing the second project going to be supervised?

    That’s a dilemma that big organisations have to cope with because they can’t just go from project to project on an ad hoc basis. That’s what I mean by the offer of outside support can be a mixed blessing.

    However an organisation really worth its salt ought to be willing to put the limited amount of effort needed into explaining the situation to the frustrated donor, and hopefully build a realtionship that will bear fruit in the future.

    I speak as someone who’s been on both the giving and the receiving end of impractical good ideas (though fortunately not having to make the sometimes literally life and death choices that an aid agency has to make)

  21. 21 Shawn

    Ahhh… now I understand what you were saying.

    Yeah, most of these options are projects Save the Children is doing anyways. Like they are building tube wells and pond sand filters as funding comes in. So me coming in to potentially build one of those is a minimal imposition for them. The same is true for the weighing scales. Save the Children is doing a Survive to Five program – the extra equipment would be a blessing not an imposition.

    That’s actually something intentional on my part behind the scenes. I wanted to augment – not hijack – Save the Children’s operations…

  22. 22 Shawn

    Ahhh… now I understand what you were saying.

    Yeah, most of these options are projects Save the Children is doing anyways. Like they are building tube wells and pond sand filters as funding comes in. So me coming in to potentially build one of those is a minimal imposition for them. The same is true for the weighing scales. Save the Children is doing a Survive to Five program – the extra equipment would be a blessing not an imposition.

    That’s actually something intentional on my part behind the scenes. I wanted to augment – not hijack – Save the Children’s operations…

  23. 23 Shawn

    Oh and Owen the only exception to that is school repair. Save the Children wasn’t specializing on that but the district manager told it was something they were definitely capable of handling.

    That’s kind of what I like about Save the Children – and why I want to support them. They’re priority is always what helps people…

  24. 24 Shawn

    Oh and Owen the only exception to that is school repair. Save the Children wasn’t specializing on that but the district manager told it was something they were definitely capable of handling.

    That’s kind of what I like about Save the Children – and why I want to support them. They’re priority is always what helps people…

  25. 25 Owen

    That does sound a good situation. Where you’re familiar with them and are happy supporting their projects but they’re flexible and positive enough to accommodate your good ideas. When do we get to know the result?

  26. 26 Owen

    That does sound a good situation. Where you’re familiar with them and are happy supporting their projects but they’re flexible and positive enough to accommodate your good ideas. When do we get to know the result?

  27. 27 Shawn

    Hey Owen – sorry for not replying earlier, I wanted to wait until after the transition.

    I am still back home in Canada – but will be returning soon hopefully. I will leave the video up for voting until I return I think. I’m flexible because I want to give people as much opportunity to get involved as possible.

  28. 28 Shawn

    Hey Owen – sorry for not replying earlier, I wanted to wait until after the transition.

    I am still back home in Canada – but will be returning soon hopefully. I will leave the video up for voting until I return I think. I’m flexible because I want to give people as much opportunity to get involved as possible.

  29. 29 david bloomer

    Obviously, an assessment of the project areas/villages would be an intricate part of the decision. For example, if schools are in such a state of disrepair that infrastructure support wouldn't make to much difference to attendance (or retention) then building a school latrine may not make much difference as well. On the other hand, so-called "school" latrines often serve as village latrines in the most socially and economically marginalised communities. They are also part of the gender lens of projects and can heavily influence girls enrollment and attendance in schools. In fact, with regards to child rights programming–what Save the Children adheres to–these two are typically important aspects of their projects (and promote normalcy for children in the aftermath of disasters): 1/3 and 1/3 with room to spare for potable water concerns.

  30. 30 david bloomer

    Obviously, an assessment of the project areas/villages would be an intricate part of the decision. For example, if schools are in such a state of disrepair that infrastructure support wouldn't make to much difference to attendance (or retention) then building a school latrine may not make much difference as well. On the other hand, so-called "school" latrines often serve as village latrines in the most socially and economically marginalised communities. They are also part of the gender lens of projects and can heavily influence girls enrollment and attendance in schools. In fact, with regards to child rights programming–what Save the Children adheres to–these two are typically important aspects of their projects (and promote normalcy for children in the aftermath of disasters): 1/3 and 1/3 with room to spare for potable water concerns.

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