Volunteering in Gansu: A Clean Water Project
What have you been up to?
The last couple of days have been so hectic. On Wednesday afternoon, Julie, Jimmy, and I took an 18-hour overnight train from Beijing to Lanzhou. Jenfay was supposed to come on the trip as well, but unfortunately she became very ill the night before we left and did not feel like she could survive the trip. The three of us went to Gansu province to build a biosand water filter (BSF) at a rural primary school, and to also to train university students in Lanzhou how to build BSFs.
We are volunteering with an organization called Rural International Student Exchange Association (RISE), a student-run organization at Tsinghua University that focuses on clean water education, waste management, and urban agriculture. Julie, Jimmy, Jenfay, and I are part of the biosand filter (BSF) team, which focuses its efforts on clean water education. The BSF team has traveled to a couple of rural areas in China, including the Shanxi and Ningxia provinces.
In Gansu, our partner is the organization called 爱心天使西部助学会. There were three other students from 爱心天使西部助学会 (and they all happened to go to 西北师范大学 Northwest Normal University) who came with us to the primary school in 陈塬 Chenyuan. A member of the organization was also kind enough to take us three around Lanzhou to visit tourist spots and to eat some Lanzhou street food.
Gansu is a province in the northwest of China, situated between the Tibetan Plateau and the Loess (Huangtu) Plateau. From Beijing, the three of us took the overnight train to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu.
Gansu looks very different from the other parts of China I’ve been to—different, but beautiful. I don’t think I can describe it exactly, but on the 8-hour bus ride to the primary school, I saw fields, mountains, and plateau-ish looking scenery. I think Jimmy best described the colours we saw in Gansu: we saw and lived in sepia there.
The northwest of China has a semi-arid to arid climate, meaning that precipitation levels are very low. For this reason, there is a water problem in many rural areas; many areas don’t have access to safe drinking water.
How does a biosand filter (BSF) work?
A biosand filter is created by attaching a PVC pipe to the bottom of a bucket, and putting rocks and sand into it. It sounds simple, but it’s actually a little more complicated than that. There are exact measurements for the depth of rocks/sand, and you have to prepare and wash everything to a certain cleanliness before you put rocks/sand into the bucket. A BSF helps with the water filtration process, not purification. You still need to boil the water that comes out of the BSF.
Let’s get our hands dirty!
The six of us arrived at Chenyuan at 5 PM on Friday, after a 10-hour long journey. We sifted and washed rocks and sand until 8PM, had a home-cooked dinner at Teacher Chen’s home, and went to bed at 11 PM. The next morning, we woke up at 5:30 AM to continue sifting and washing. Long story short, we finished the BSF successfully by 11:30 AM, which was perfect timing because the bus comes at 12:30 PM once every day. Phew!
We weren’t just there to build a BSF. The three students from Northwest Normal University prepared a lesson about clean water for the kids—yup, the kids were told to come to school on a Saturday for this special lesson. Last time, the 爱心天使西部助学会 students gave out reusable water bottles to the kids. This time, they collected a whole ton of books for a school library. How sweet is that?
On Sunday morning, we helped with a BSF training session at Northwest Normal University. Julie presented a kickass presentation on BSFs, and we had a heated question and answer session with the 10 students who attended. Go Julie! Then, we went outside and the 10 students practiced making a mini-BSF.
The three of us spent Sunday afternoon and Monday touring Lanzhou. Zhangjiqiang from the 爱心天使西部助学会 was our tour guide—thank you! We went several places, including the Yellow River, the Gansu Provincial Museum, and Wuquan Mountain. Zhangjiqiang also took us to eat all the special Lanzhou snacks and dishes. My favourite was 扁豆面.