Mason's Clean Water Project in the Peruvian Amazon

by Sarah Parshall

Mason's Clean Water Project in the Peruvian Amazon
Professor Gilmore plans alongside Maijuna Community Member

There are only 400 Maijuna people left on earth. The Maijuna are an indigenous group that resides in the northeastern Peruvian Amazon. Today, the communities suffer from dysentery and other waterborne diseases, which are due to a lack of proper sanitation and contaminated drinking water.

When New Century College professor Dr. Mike Gilmore first started working with the Maijuna people during his doctoral research as an ethnobiologist, he stayed with a very young family in one of the Maijuna communities. The 18-year old father and 17-year old mother had two children, a two-year-old, and a newborn. When Dr. Gilmore returned the following year, he learned that the newborn had died from dysentery, a relatively common cause of disease and death for Maijuna babies and children. This is what prompted Dr. Gilmore and the Maijuna to search out simple measures that can be taken to save the lives of many Maijuna people.

The primary cause of illness is contaminated water coming from local rivers that people use for cooking and drinking. Dr. Gilmore is partnering with a Mason student organization called Engineers for International Development (GMU-EfID) to build latrines and search for ways that the communities can gain access to clean drinking water, such as through wells or filtering.

During this past Winter break, faculty members Dr. Gilmore and Dr. Barry Liner accompanied by two students from GMU-EfID, Leslie Temple and Gabe Stonebraker, traveled to the Peruvian Amazon to conduct a reconnaissance trip of the Maijuna communities.  In order to confront the epidemic of dysentery, the team decided that the use of Biosand filters were the most efficient and sustainable way to purify the water in the area. Biosand filters have been used around the world and are an incredibly effective and low cost solution to the problems facing the Maijuna. During the summer, Drs. Gilmore and Liner along with an entire team of students from GMU-EfID will be making another trip to the Maijuna communities to teach them how to build, maintain, and use Biosand filters.

The Maijuna mission of Mike Gilmore and GMU’s Engineers for International Development will require support from the Mason community. Though the engineering concepts are relatively simple, the impact of the project will be improved sanitation and the health of the Maijuna people. These projects will save many lives. GMU-EfID student leader Gabe Stonebraker claims that students from all majors and interests can get involved in this project. He asks that anyone interested should email him at thestonebraker@gmail.com.