Exactly seven days ago, I was feeling like an all-star. An absolute champ. One week later I feel like a miserable failure. Oh I feel like a loser! It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Today’s event should have been better than last week’s. After all, last week was just the dress rehearsal.
I guess I’d better explain myself. As I mentioned in these pages earlier this week, Toti and I spent February 6th in a town called Koronadal, where we launched a new biosand water filter project (you can read my brief account here). The goal was simple: train up a team of filter salesmen, arming them with the necessary knowledge to go and promote the technology in their respective communities. We were also there to train up an installation team that could fill the orders generated by the sales team.
My job description is ambiguous, but my number one responsibility is to go out into all the world (or, more specifically, all of Mindanao) and get people excited about the biosand water filter. My wife will tell you that the biosand filter occupies much of my thought life. It is my passion to make others passionate about safe water. So, last week I was in my element. I was doing my thing and loving it. By the end of last Saturday, we had 25 people who were very excited about water filtration and were armed with the knowledge to go make an impact in their community.
Honestly, I was in the zone last week. I was networking like crazy, getting laughs with my lame jokes, and encouraging as many people as would listen to me. Our turn out was much bigger than anticipated and everything was way more organized than I was expecting.
This week, my expectations were high. Perhaps our recent success had me anticipating big things. We certainly worked much harder at planing this event. Regardless, this was just one of those days. Some stuff was completely out of our control. A flat tire put us behind schedule, and a well-meaning but stunningly ignorant stranger gave us some very bad directions that got us so lost that our expected arrival time was missed by nearly 2 hours.
Getting lost, however, isn’t what has me feeling like a failure. No, it is the mistakes that I am still making after years of learning the same lesson over and over again. An example. Why do I continue to believe people when they say that I do not need a translator? I learned this lesson the first time I preached in this country two and a half years ago, and I’m still learning it. I’m pretty sure this makes me a moron.
This morning, I did my usual lecture, a one hour lesson on the biosand filter, explaining its origin, the specifics of the technology, and its recommended implementation in the community. No translator needed. Ya right. My attempts to interact with my audience/pupils went unreciprocated. But that’s cool, because blank stares are fun too. When I opened it up for questions at the end, the room remained silent which told me we were suffering from a serious disconnect. Two questions were eventually lobbed my way after which I turned the mic over to the local staff to address the payment structures and all those financial details.
And then it happened. As soon as a Filipino had the conch (wow, a Lord of the Flies reference, really?), the questions started to fly. I should have been pleased to see that people were finally beginning to engage, but instead I was mildly ticked. Their questions seemed stupid to me because they had all been answered in my lecture. In English. Sigh. So I let Toti answer most of the questions and did my best not to sulk or scowl (a great challenge for me, as you may well know).
Things got worse after lunch. Despite the clear agenda that I had laid out via email, we had a strange change of plans that had the entire group (about 40 people) loaded up into vans to go to a nearby school for a demonstration. Apparently there was already a filter installed at the school (who installed it?) and we were going to promote the technology to the parents of the school children.
There were no parents nor were there school children. There was, however, a filter. Oh, the emotions I felt as I rounded the corner and first laid eyes on that filter. Rage? Yeah, probably. Embarrassment? I was mortified. Amusement? This was no laughing matter. Despair? I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
Toti is a much better man than I. While I was struggling to keep my emotions in check, he was calmly and quickly formulating a plan to turn this into a teachable moment. I should first explain that every filter must be installed by a certified technician. We certify technicians, and in fact that is what we are doing here today. I don’t know where this filter had come from, but there wasn’t a certified technician within a hundred miles of this thing when it landed at this school. To complicate matters, the owner was standing there with a toothless grin, proudly proclaiming that he had installed it himself. Toti deftly and delicately explained to the group, in their own language, that this was a valiant effort but was not providing the best results.
I didn’t take any pictures of the beast because I wanted no evidence of the atrocity. I can tell you that it had a strange mixture of river sand and very large rocks inside and was being fed a constant stream of water from a hose, origin unknown. There was also a hose attached to the spout of the filter, which led into a massive cauldron which was catching the water. I know this description makes little sense to most of our readers, but I am certain that Aunt Sylv is rolling her eyes right now. Needless to say, this particular “filter” was an abomination and was doing very little for the health of its users.
Why do I take this stuff so personally? Why did this site rock me to the core, and literally bring me, a 30 year old man in full control of his faculties, to the brink of an all-out temper tantrum? Well, the three hours of sleep I had last night was certainly a contributing factor, but there is much more to it.
This is what I do. I’ve dedicated more hours than I am aware of to the proliferation of clean water in Mindanao. I have carefully crafted a business plan and organizational structure that is centered around quality control. So when I see a filter that has “slipped through the cracks” I count it as a personal failure. Sure, I realize that with over 3000 units out in the wild, there are going to be some rebellious filters. But when I actually lay eyes on one, the only thought that enters my mind is that I’ve wasted my time.
Further inquiries revealed that the filter had been acquired and “installed” (I use that term very loosely) nearly two years ago, when we were still building filters in Joe’s backyard. At that time, we were very new to this business and didn’t have a clue what we were doing. Yes, we have since put policies in place that I believe greatly reduce the chances of such incidents. And yet, today’s encounter will keep me from sleeping tonight. I will go back to the drawing board and re-examine all of our policies to see how we can do better.
I’ve been writing this inside while Toti is outside doing the installation training. It looks like they have just finished, so I guess I need to get up, paste on a smile, and find a way to gracefully exit this town. The good news is that today over 30 pastors have learned of the importance of clean water and the need for the biosand water filter. It sounds like Toti just successfully trained 7 more installation technicians. These are good things, but it sure seemed like an awkward way of accomplishing them.