Before his junior year at Kansas University, Chase Hamilton took a leisurely vacation to Peru with his family. His father had never been to the Amazon and Hamilton was excited to try out his Spanish with the native speakers.
But upon canoeing down a river tributary of the Amazon, Hamilton and his family were stopped by a group of indigenous people and told they could not cross unless they procured medicine for a dying member of their community sick with diarrhea. Hamilton said the exchange was eye-opening.
“It was my first time witnessing truly gripping poverty,” Hamilton said. “I knew the need must be incredibly massive, so I remember canoeing away and thinking, 'I have to get back here.' I had to find out if they wanted our help and if they did, what type of help?”
Hamilton devoted the next few years to volunteering with organizations providing medical aid to the suffering populations in the area, but he said he grew frustrated that he could only throw Band-Aids at the problem.
“The doctors can do so much, but we need to nip the cause of the illness at the bud,” Hamilton said. “Once we’re able to do that, then we can provide the doctors to treat chronic conditions.”
When he graduated in May 2011, Hamilton formed his own non-profit, the Coalition for Global Community Health, or CGCHealth, which seeks to treat the root of the health issues. The group conducted a needs assessment and discovered that water contamination was community members’ greatest concern.
CGCHealth works primarily with the city of Belén, Peru, where 50,000 people live in shacks built on large stilts or floating logs to withstand yearly 15- to 25-foot flooding. And while it might seem contradictory for a community with so much extra water, Hamilton said almost 98 percent of Belén residents don’t have access to clean water.
“During the wet season, there isn’t any place to walk, so they have to canoe or swim to the market through the same water they’re defecating into,” Hamilton said. “When the waters go down, the human waste settles to the bottom and the children will play or walk to school in the mud that is mixed with feces.”
The impoverished conditions of Belén leave families with little choice. Hamilton said the average Belén family takes home the equivalent of just 60 U.S. cents per day, which is about $1.40 less than the poverty level of the rural Amazon.
“They have to make do with what they have and drink their contaminated water and hope for the best,” Hamilton said. But drinking contaminated water causes the biggest health concern in the region.
“The rise of diarrhea and other gastrointestinal diseases there is really devastating,” Hamilton said. “One hundred seventy six of every 1,000 children will die before they’re 5, and 30 percent of those deaths are caused by problems linked to contaminated water.”
To combat the problem, CGCHealth researched effective water filtration systems. Discouraged by the demands of upkeep and short lifespan of other filters, Hamilton found the Sawyer water filter The $55 system that guarantees filtration of over a million gallons of water, which Hamilton said could last a family about 10 to 15 years.
With the help of five CGCHealth staff members and four KU students last summer, CGCHealth distributed 80 filters to 80 families, helping about 450 individuals.
To ensure the highest benefit possible, CGCHealth created a program that required families to complete a four-day health education course on the prevention and cause of common diseases in the area before they could receive their water filter.
Now, CGCHealth wants to help even more. CGCHealth has created a fundraising campaign on the crowd-funding platform indiegogo to raise $10,000 for a 12-month initiative to educate and provide water filtration systems for hundreds of families. The goal: providing clean water to more than 1,200 Peruvians.
Once the goal is reached, Hamilton said the initiative will open up opportunities to better meet more of the health needs of the community.
“We will reach out to over a thousand people and give them clean access to water,” Hamilton said, “and it will allow CGChealth to build its résumé to apply for grant opportunities to provide a more sustainable model of aid.”
To contribute to CGCHealth's indiegogo fundraising campaign, visit http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/cgchealth-clean-water-campaign.