I'd been thinking about undertaking a project supplying clean drinking water in a developing country for a long time, but wanted to use my skills as a hydrogeologist rather than just pay money to go and be a manual labourer, which to my mind is effectively taking the job of someone local (and probably more skilled at it!).
After Christmas, I found out about URS' Community Volunteering Programme, which provides funds to sponsor staff that want to undertake volunteering in their field. I set about researching the options available, and found Just-a-Drop, a charity that primarily works to provide clean, sustainable water with small-scale projects lasting from two weeks to a few months.
It is associated with the Scientific Exploration Society (SES), which was perfect, as they go to some of the remotest parts of the globe and have a very good reputation for their work. It seemed like my timing was spot on as SES were organising an expedition to install a clean drinking water supply for a village called Zabalo in the rainforest of eastern Ecuador. I sent through my CV, which fitted the bill, and then applied to URS for funding. It was confirmed quickly and everything started to fall into place.
In May, the expedition members - a mixed crowd of 20 people of all ages and backgrounds - came together for a briefing at the home of Colonel John Blashford Snell (JBS), who set up both SES and Just-a-Drop. Roles for the trip were outlined by Yoli, a Columbian economist (and trip project manager) who had just come back from a recce at the village.
There would be three of us on the water project; myself, Julian, and Beth and the aim was to pump surface water from a nearby clean water source to a water tower; this would then be filtered and distributed around the village. This area of Ecuador has been documented to have seen significant oil contamination so there were concerns over the potential for contamination at the water source. This would require in field hydrocarbon testing equipment, (the TD500) which I was able to hire at a reduced price from Cybersense.
The long-term aim of the community is to kick-start ecotourism in the village. So besides the water team, there were two doctors, an optometrist, a dentist and a medic to provide for the locals in Zabalo and surrounds. Also in the team were a botanist, a farmer, and ornithologist to study local wildlife, a teacher, anthropologist, archaeologist and artist, and a surveyor to map the village and potential walking routes. There were also two photographers to record the expedition for inclusion in promotional material for the ecotourism project.
At the brief we went over the plan and received training in how to use walkie-talkies and the satellite phone. We were told what to bring, the bugs and wildlife we should expect (including a full warning on vampire bats!), then we were sent out on a mission into the countryside to make sure we could read a map and work as a team. It all went swimmingly, and after that it was just a case of waiting, excitedly, until our departure at the end of July.