Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Toilet Talk – why we think WASH issues are the key

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Having access to clean toilets is something we might just be taking for granted.

Having access to clean toilets is something we might just be taking for granted.

In the development work that we have done, we have come across a lot of different issues that have an impact on people’s livelihoods.  Education, health, sanitation, poverty, work.   It is all important.   But often times the task of helping others can seem quite daunting – where do you start?

We acknowledge the inherent difficulties with trying to figure out a complex “chicken and egg” situation.   But one thing that seems clear from the places we have visited, the projects we have seen, and the issues that are out there, is that having good outcomes in the WASH area (in the development world, this is usually regarded as WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is really the starting place for other key areas (like education) to be able to take place.

This video here shows briefly why WASH issues matter.

And for our Australian readers, we don’t usually plug any particular “thing to buy”, but we are big fans of Who Gives A Crap – who are saving lives from the bottom up!   Who knew buying toilet paper could be so cheap, easy AND socially responsible?!    Here is what their website has to say about their business model:


Flush Poverty Down the Loo
At present, 40% of the world’s population don’t have access to a toilet. This is a leading contributor to endemic poverty and is a major drag on economic growth in some of the world’s poorest countries. Diarrhoea related illnesses fill over half sub-Saharan African hospital beds and globally kill over 2,000 children under 5 every day. We think that’s pretty crap. That’s why we give 50% of our profits to WaterAid to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.
Make Every Wipe Count
We believe that the need to wipe shouldn’t mean we wipe out the planet. That’s why we only use 100% recycled post consumer waste fibres in our toilet paper. It saves on trees, water and landfill which means you’re doing your bit to help keep our planet great.
Be Good for Your Bum
We don’t use any chlorine, inks, dyes or weird perfumes in our toilet paper. We just pulp the clean fibres at super high temperatures to make WGAC biodegradable, safe in septic tanks and as strong as it is silky soft. And since it’s only tested on the finest human bottoms, our toilet paper is as good for your bum as it is for the planet.

Okay, everyone!   This is a product that we ALL use, and trust us!   It’s great quality, and a great idea.   Free shipping to most Australian cities, and they deliver every where else for a song and a dance.   Don’t flush this opportunity away!


Written by Mar(k)

September 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Water – worth fighting for!

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Even Australia's marsupials know how important water is!  Definitely worth fighting for!

Even Australia’s marsupials know how important water is! Definitely worth fighting for!

I have often commented to various friends that I reckon the next world war will be fought – not over oil or oppression, but over something that we really can’t live without – water!   Living in Western Australia, where drought seems to be the norm, rather than the exception, I really do have a strong appreciation for just how precious a resource good old H2O is.

Recently, Mark and I spent some time at the World Heritage Listed Ningaloo Coast, which has one of the longest near-shore reef systems in the world.   The area is famous for many things, including being the place where various endangered species of turtle come to nest, where you can swim with the whale sharks, and also witness the annual migration of the humpback whale, as they make their way from Antarctica up to the Kimberley where they calve.   Needless to say, there are a lot of amazing things to be seen when one is visiting the area!

So we were up in Exmouth, celebrating a “special birthday”, and so we decided to treat ourselves to some eco-luxury at Sal Salis Resort, which is actually located within the Cape Range National Park itself.  We were most impressed with what a strong commitment Sal Salis has to the environment.   In fact, in order for them to even be PERMITTED to be in the National Park, they need to work closely with the Department of Environment and Conservation to ensure that they leave as low an environmental footprint as possible.   And part of that footprint is about minimising the use of water at the resort – because every drop that comes in needs to be transported from the town of Exmouth!

These great showers really helped to focus the mind on water conservation.   20 litres per guest, per day

These great showers really helped to focus the mind on water conservation. 20 litres per guest, per day

So that really helps to focus the mind, when you know that every drop you are using has been brought in especially for you!    So what Sal Salis does is provide 20 litres per day for each guest at the resort.   And guess what?   It’s enough.   You need to focus.   No, you can’t sit under a shower for a long time, and in fact, if you have long hair (like I do), the process is something like this:    Wet hair.  Shut off water.   Shampoo hair.   Turn on water.   Lather up.  Turn off water.   Continue to lather.   Turn on water.   Rinse hair.   Turn off water.   Add conditioner.   Turn on water and rinse. TURN OFF WATER.

But it CAN be done.   Ningaloo is such an amazingly diverse place, and it felt like such a privilege to be RIGHT THERE.   I loved the fact that we were constantly reminded about the water usage issue.   Because it is IMPORTANT!    It also highlighted to me how many ways we can minimise water consumption in our day to day lives.   I hope that after reading this post, you will think about ways that YOU can make a difference in the amount of water you consume each day.   I’d love to hear about some of the ways that you are reducing water in your own lives!

The fridge reincarnation

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Piles of junk? or Garden of Possibilities?

In a post a while ago, we wrote about the fact that many wonderful items are discarded by the roadside.   Many items are still functioning, and still more may be upcycled, or recycled, to continue their usefulness in a different guise!   This is certainly what happened to a fridge that we “rescued” from the last verge collection.  We were first given the idea of using old fridges as raised garden beds at a Sustainable Living initiative that we attended at a wonderful place called Earthwise.  In addition to learning about such things as composting (our compost is now doing great!), worm farms and propagation (ie: growing plants from cuttings, etc…), we also talked about establishing raised garden beds.  So knowing that we could use an old fridge for this purpose, we kept our eyes peeled for a suitable candidate.

Sure enough, one was found!  Our car is just a little one, so it was a bit of a challenge getting it home…..  Fortunately, it was only a few blocks away from the house, so we didn’t cause any major accidents on the freeway!

Future Garden Bed

Once home, Mark had the task of removing the motor from the back, as well as poking some holes into what would become the “bottom” of our garden bed, to ensure that enough water drainage would occur.   One of the “rules” of leaving fridges for the verge pick up, is that the doors have to be removed (a safety issue, to ensure children playing in them don’t inadvertently lock themselves in!).    So this bit of the process was already done for us.

With the nitty gritty out of the way, it was time to start planting!   We found a suitable site in our small back yard; one just beneath our kumquat tree, so there would be enough shade to grow some herbs.  The harsh Australian summers can be really tough on plants!  So we wanted to make sure we gave our a fighting chance!

The planting began.   We decided to start with seedlings (small plants), rather than try and grow from seeds, as we are just beginner gardeners.  As we get better, and more knowledgeable, I’m sure we’ll try seed things, too!


Some of the items we planted in our fridge / garden bed included basil, rocket, red lettuce and coriander!   We were thrilled with the results.   It has been great to pick regularly from our little garden!   Fresh salads taste so much better when the greens are coming from our own hard efforts!  (well, mostly the efforts of Mother Nature!)    The basil was quite prolific, so we have it on everything at the moment, in addition to lots and lots of yummy pesto!

We were pretty pleased with ourselves, so we just wanted to share with you the extra life that one humble refrigerator has been given!   We’re already starting to give some thought to what we will plant in our fridge for winter!

Written by Mar(k)

January 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Being grateful for the little things…

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Now that we are back in Australia, after our wonderful year as volunteers with AVI / VSO in Ghana, we thought we’d reflect a little bit about how this experience has changed us.   We’re not talking about really big picture, “DEEP” things…. but the little things that we do or think about differently, now that we are back in Australia.  Here are some things to come to mind:

How grateful we are for regular electricity and running water.  Both of these are “on demand” for us in Oz.   In Ghana, we considered ourselves very fortunate to have both; albeit somewhat intermittently.  In our one year there, losing electricity (called “lights out”) occurred on an almost daily basis;  sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes an hour or two, and sometimes for a day or two!  The longest run without electricity was 5 days, right at the start of our placement!  It was definitely an initiation by “fire”…. 

Water we lost about a handful of times; again, sometimes for a few hours, other times for a few days.  The issue is that you never knew how long it would be “finished” for.   So rationing the water you had became very important.

As a result of the above things, one of the things we now have is a new found respect for water.  So….  we are not ashamed to admit that we now abide by the “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” principle at home!   This results in a lot less flushes, saving a lot more water.  Every drop counts.

clean water - one thing we certainly don't take for granted anymore!

Also on the water theme, we have a container that we put under our shower to collect the water while it is “warming up”.   We then use that water on our garden outside, rather than let it go wasted down the drain!   This is also a luxury, as we did not have hot running water in Ghana.  

Another thing we regularly give thanks for is the way we do Laundry here.  All we have to do is load our front loading washing machine, press a button and voila!  clothes that are being washed for you!   In Ghana, we did all laundry by hand, which took a few hours every week – and was a tough upper body workout!  

Another area of thanks is for the ease of being able to eat well.  We used to fantasise in Ghana about eating at restaurants, but the reality is, we do not eat out all that often.  It is just so easy to get beautiful, fresh, healthy food at the grocery store, that we are more than happy to prepare it ourselves.  It is quick, easy and most cost effective!   We still love to go out, but we see it as a treat, rather than a regular occurrence!

One of our true delights - a great coffee!!! aahhhh..... bliss!

Good coffee!   We really did miss our regular pilgrimage to our favourite barista while we were away!   Although we had some plunger coffee that we rationed while we were in Ghana, it is still such a treat to go to one of our favourite coffee shops here and get our Cappuccino (Mark) and a Soy Flat White (Mar).   aaaaahhhhhhhh…. the little things.

Access to good medical facilities:  when Mar was sick, we ultimately ended up losing faith in the health service that was available to us.  We are so grateful that we can get quality medical care here in Australia, and have faith that the diagnosis that are made, are the appropriate ones….

Friends and Family:  we missed you guys!   It is great to be back and be able to catch up with the people who are near and dear to us!   And for that matter, we feel we still share a little part of us with our friends and family who are not so near to us in Perth – through sharing our thoughts and feelings on this blog!   So love going out to y’all…..

Our VSO Family while we were in Ghana!

Public Toilets: A Wee Comparison

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In our travels, one of the interesting indicators of a country’s relative wealth seems to be the availability of public toilets.  The wealthier the country, the easier it is to relieve oneself when in public.  Once a suitable place has been located, one can then start to make additional comparisons which include such things as availability of running water (or not), ability to sit down (or squat), electricity (or not), and so on. 

When in Ghana, we certainly noticed that the availability of public facilities was very limited.  In the main area of Tamale, public facilities were virtually non-existent (this in a town of over 350,000 people).  Certain restaurants may have had facilities, but even then the quality of such was questionable at best.   I recall even at the hospital (Kabsab – a private hospital), when asked to provide a urine specimen, I was sent out to the urinal (separate for males and females) and had to do what I had to do there.   No running water, no hand towels, nothing.

Things were the same where we worked.  There was a shared male/female urinal facility that many of the nearby offices shared.  There were no doors, so Mark used to have to stand guard outside, while I went in (as most workers are male, and would cruise in to either urinal without hesitation).  The set up was essentially a trough – slightly sloping so that the liquid would run into the exit hole.  Which was fine, unless leaves and other debris prevented this from happening.  Not a pleasant sight or smell when the temperatures would be in the mid 40’s!

However, on a visit to a community within a few hours of Tamale, I did need to use the loo, and I was most impressed with its comparative luxury!  Here it is here.  A nice cylindrical design, all very new and shiny!

It should be noted, of course – that all of these options are suitable for weeing only – no facilities available for #2!!!   The standard options available to us were to either take a shared taxi home if the need arose (preferred and used option), or to do what many locals are forced to do – and “free range”… meaning to go into some nearby bush and find a spot that has not already been used by others.   Needless to say, such areas were not conducive to health!   Illnesses like typhoid and cholera are not surprisingly common in such circumstances. 

All  joking aside, globally an estimated 1.1 billion people defecate in the open, and about 1.5 million children die every year because they simply don’t have access to safe hygiene, sanitation and water.   A World Health Organisation (WHO) report confirmed what we had experienced.  2.6 BILLION people worldwide are without improved sanitation (i.e nearly 40% of the population).  Ghana is one of these countries. 

Recently we were in Egypt, and we both commented on how many more public facilities were around.  This certainly seemed reasonable, as the wealth in Egypt was palpably higher than in Ghana.  Of course, the large number of tourists also provide a strong demand for such facilities;  many of which are used by visitors, but never benefit the local people.

And then we get to Perth….  Australia is sometimes called the Lucky Country, and we were absolutely blown away by the public loos that exist at a public library that we sometimes frequent.  Let me give you a brief overview of what this palatial loo is all about.  The lights are controlled by motion sensors, so the energy-efficient lighting comes on when you enter the area, and automatically turn themselves off after a suitable time of no movement within.  Each loo has a sink above the toilet itself.  When you flush, recycled water comes out of the sink, so that you can wash your hands immediately.   Of course, paper towels are provided for drying. 

All of the water in this facility is recycled grey water.  So the water cycles through the system, gets appropriately treated, and then is used to water the beautiful gardens outside.  Solid waste is also treated and used as fertiliser. 

We were blown away with the cleanliness, environmental friendliness, and appropriateness of the whole system!  Well done to Peppermint Grove Library for working so hard to achieve a sustainable solution for a public facility.  It was a far cry from what we lived with in Ghana, that’s for sure!

Written by Mar(k)

March 27, 2011 at 8:19 am

that’s just rubbish! Here’s a much better thirst quenching option….

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One of the things I often ranted and raved about when we lived in Ghana was the pervasive use of plastic bags…. in particular the use of water sachets….  they were a very affordable option for poor people to have safe water to drink.  Regrettably, one consequence of the affordability of these bags (about 5 or 10 Aussie cents for one 250 ml sachet), was that many foreigners who could easily afford (and would know how to, and in many cases, are even provided with the means) to safely filter their own drinking water, would use the “sachets”, thus contributing even more to a significant pollution problem in Ghana.  (and setting a bad example for the locals!)

Regrettably, so many otherwise beautiful villages in Ghana were teeming with litter

This was coupled with a culture which did not seemingly value the proper disposal of rubbish, and many otherwise beautiful villages were often strewn with litter, as you can see in this photo of an otherwise delightful traditional community just outside of Tamale.

We have recently returned from Egypt, where by comparision, the streets are virtually litter free (certainly compared to Ghana, anyhow!), and we often saw street cleaners sweeping up the sidewalks.

On the Nile, I did wonder, as i gazed out of our cruise boat where we “lived” for four nights… what happened to all the litter?  

boat collecting litter from the cruise ships on the Nile

 I found out one day, as I was musing on the upper deck….  this boat was going from cruise ship to cruise ship, collecting all the trash….   not sure where it went from here, but I must say that overall, I was impressed with how Egypt is coping with the millions of visitors it has every year.

For us, one of the simple things that we did, that ensured we did not add to the multitude of plastic water  bottles being disposed of, was bringing along some “Puri Tabs” which we used with local water.  We just added these tablets to our water bottles, and voila!  safe water to drink, without the rubbish disposal issue of yet another plastic bottle.  It may seem “cheap” at the time (less than an Aussie dollar for a 1.5 litre plastic bottle of filtered drinking water), but it is the long term cost  to the planet that doesn’t make such choices that much of a bargain….

Written by Mar(k)

January 26, 2011 at 8:36 am

The Rains have Arrived!

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The rolling clouds are a sure sign that some interesting weather is on its way!

After a lengthy dry period, the rains have finally come to Tamale!  Part of the joy of this is the cooler temperatures we are experiencing.  The cooler evenings make it far more pleasant to sleep, although there is a regular cycle of cooling rains, building humidity (and building temperatures), following by the cooling rains again!

The landscape has been transformed from a dry savannah grassland and dust bowl, to a lush, verdant green oasis.  This time of the year is also known as the “lean season”, as the crops are not yet ready to be harvested, and the food supplies from the last season are depleted.  So this is the time when even more people experience hunger.  For us, we also  notice this at the market, where prices for produce are higher, quality is lower, and selection is poor.  Soon however, we know that a new bounty of produce will arrive!  Given that many parts of the Northern Sahel regions are experiencing famine at the moment, it is an interesting time to be among people who do not have enough to feed themselves.

Other aspects of the rainy season are also apparent.  One interesting one is the mould that is now growing in our shoes!  Things just aren’t drying out, so mould is the natural result!  We are still working on ways to figure out how to eradicate the problem.  Always makes for an interesting discussion, if nothing else!

Finally, the storms means more power outages.  Electrical lighting and thunder are often heard far in advance of the rains, and we are far more regularly sitting in our candle lit lounge room, or dining by candlelight.  We can assure you, dinner by candlelight is far less romantic when it is done out of necessity, rather than desire!

Another project that we immediately rush to do when we hear the rains, is to get our five buckets outside, so we can fill them with rainwater!   We have been very happy with our simple rainwater harvesting technique.  In a place where every drop of water counts, we feel happier using this water to flush our loo.  Each bucket gives about 1.5 flushes!  A small step, but every step makes a difference!

Coming from Perth where “interesting” displays of cloud formations are a rarity, we do enjoy watching the skies as they morph into interesting cloud shapes, etc…  reminds us of when we were kids, staring up at the clouds and imagining places far away!

Written by Mar(k)

July 22, 2010 at 9:30 am