Bob Dell’s dedication to clean water is having a global impact.
After a 30-year career as a water scientist at his own Dell Tech Laboratories, Bob Dell visited Uganda in 2004 with global charity Compassion Canada and saw firsthand the impact that waterborne illnesses were having on the nation. He realized the answer to this problem was potentially so simple that it had been hidden in plain sight for years. The biggest roadblock was a lack of education. Since then, he has dedicated himself to ensuring that children around the world are educated about the importance of hygiene, sanitation and clean water through the Water School, which he founded in 2007 with colleague Fraser Edwards.
Rather than sending their own representatives (essentially strangers) into the community, The Water School trains local teachers and other respected community members to use solar water disinfection (SODIS), then leaves it to them to engage children and families and teach them how to run the process and take clean drinking water into their own hands. “Ownership is the only way that you get sustainability,” Dell says.
Recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the Red Cross, SODIS involves containing water in polyethylene terephthalate (PET/PETE) plastic bottles and exposing them to direct sunlight for a full day so that UV-A rays can kill illness-causing viruses, bacteria and parasites like giardia and cryptosporidia.
In his testing, Dell also managed to simplify the process originally set out by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Sciences and Technology.
With continued success in Uganda, Bolivia, Sudan and Kenya, the Water School began expanding into Haiti in October 2010, in the wake of its devastating earthquake and cholera outbreak. Dell is spending two months in Zambia to solidify opportunities there.
Bradley Pierik is currently researching water bag technology as a substitute for bottles, which don’t ship well due to their awkward shape. In addition to working on his Master’s thesis in Chemical Engineering at the University of British Columbia, he also works closely with the Water School, having built connections and assisted on projects in the Philippines and East Africa.
“Bob’s work is having a tremendous impact on water health and awareness in Canada and abroad,” Pierik says. Dell, he explains, has a very unique leadership style that engages his team to look for their own opportunities—and this has even spilled over into the community. Inspired by the Water School’s annual fundraising Climb for Clean Water on Mount Kilimanjaro (which raised over $200,000 for clean water efforts in March 2010), one London, Ontario girl got her entire school involved and organized the Kids Water Climb this past October. The students raised over $9,500 as they climbed Mount Boler. The Water School is developing an information package based on this success in the hopes of engaging more schools across Canada in the global issue of clean water.
“Bob jokes that he works harder now that he’s retired,” says Pierik, adding that Dell does it for the smiles on children’s faces when they’re happy and healthy. “No one is better qualified to be recognized as a Canadian water champion.” — Jessie Davis