Do You Give a SH_T? You Should, its World Toilet Day!

As you leave your bathroom and maybe curse because there is no toilet paper left, consider yourself lucky cus you have a toilet that works!  For many people in the world, there is no option of a private toilet facitliy, or even any toilet facility.  They may hike into the nearby woods, fields, or nearest water source, stream or river to relieve themselves.  Not only is this undignified, but it is also a leading cause of illness and disease.  World Toilet Day is highlighting the need for much more awareness and support that is necessary to make a change, and for people to have the ability to use toilets or facilities that are safe and hygenic, and not contributing to illness and disease.

If you have not given to any causes this year, please consider a donation to an organization that works in water and sanitation.  Here are some of my favorite orgs that help to raise safety in sanitation throughout the world.


A Calgary based organization that has made huge strides over the past decade in the lives of millions!

SOIL     –

Based in Haiti, they turn human waste into black gold with a composting outhouse!  Brilliant!

IRRI      – or

their Biobolsa bag turns animal waste into fuel for cooking and fertilizer – I think that might be a double dip for renewable resources!

It doesn’t have to be much, any size donation will make you feel amazing, try it and see!


!.  SOIL works in Haiti where there is a huge need for so much work to be done in the sanitation arena.  I first witnessed their efforts here in Shada, a slum area in Northern Haiti in the city of Cap-Haitian.

2. The Indominitable Sasha Kramer, SOIL is her baby, and their work has become an important stepping stone in changing the lives of Haitians, now based in Port-au-Prince and working in areas like Site Soley, they offer an amazing system to answer the need of toilets, sanitation, and renewing waste into a useful fertilizer.

3. The Biobolsa in DF Mexico, I love what this 10 meter bio bag can do. You can see it behind myself and Jen White of Isla Urbana who are partnering with thier sister organization IRRI/Sistema Biobolsa to change animal waste into fuel and fertilizer!

4.  You put it in one end and in 5 weeks you can fuel a cookstove 24/7 as well as increase your crops with a rich compost/fertilizer that also comes out the other end!


Tomorrow night at 7.30 pm MST I will be interviewed about my work as a Humanitarian Photographer and be presenting via SKYPE at WOW, Women of Wisdom, an event in Calgary!  I am really excited and honored to be a part of this and will be showcasing some of my recent work from my trip to Mexico City!


Why the water is disappearing in Mexico City

This is a very short video clip done while Sol Garcia and I were collecting information and images at one of the PIPAS (a water station in DF Mexico City)  Jen White of Isla Urbana gives us a quick rundown of how the Delagacion in DF distribute water to it’s citizens, and why this is effecting the water table in this city of 20 million.

Watch on Posterous

The Show Begins!

During a skype meeting that took place the week prior to my Isla Urbana visit in DF Mexico, Jenny White, Community Outreach Director, excitedly told me that Isla Urbana had been taking part in a Reality TV Program called “Iniciativa Mexico”.  I have to hand it to the production company that acted on the idea to utilize reality tv for social good.


Televisa, the Mexican TV programmer, partnered with the Mexican Government who provided a 2 for 1 match to the prize money.  Initially 25 projects were selected through an ASHOKA appointed panel, and then over 8 weeks, the project teams were pared down through an elimination process from 25 to 10, 6 and eventually at the Gran Final, there were 4 remaining projects competing for the prize of 30 million pesos (that’s around 2.25 million to you and me).  Isla Urbana originally selected into the first group of 50 made it into the top 25.  Even though they progressed no further than the that, they received 2.25 million pesos, which added roughly $180,000 to their coffers!


Their sister project, Sistema Biobolsa made it all the way through to the final countdown, one of the 4 remaining projects to appear on the Gran Final show which took place last night in front of a live audiance at the Auditorio Nacional.  It was a gala night complete with red carpet.  A typical television taping, with an excited audience incorporating large numbers of supporters for each team.  Isla Urbana were there to cheer on their other half, and the tension was clearly mounting when Camillo, the television face of Sistema Biobolsa was one of the 2 last remaining projects! In the end, SB placed second, still huge winners taking home 15 million pesos ($1.2 million), which will help them to take the Biobolsa into the big leagues in terms of future projects and creating even more sustainability.


The home office of Isla Urbana was literally buzzing after a celebratory party on Sunday night.  Enrique Lomnitz, director had just arrived back from a 2 week stint working with the Huichol Indians on Rainwater Harvesting.  He is excited about the prospects this brings to IU and SB, both projects of IRRI.


“Last year we installed over 500 rainwater harvesting systems into homes here in DF, and we are going to be going forward with another 400-500 systems in the coming year”.  Enrique wants Isla Urbana to utilize their prize money to help build up sustainability, both in the previously installed systems, and in creating a better infrastructure framework for individuals.  Currently there is no feasible way that participants not using any Delgacion (city) water to opt out of paying for it.  Imagine if you were running completely off grid, but your provider still made you pay the same amount as if you were using services fully!  Enrique is looking to other cities that have already created rebate models for its citizens that are invested in ecological sustainable models for anything from water, electricity usage, recycling etc.  Its good for everyone, this show is only just beginning!

1.The Iniciativa Award

2. Enrique Lomnitz talks to me about Isla Urbana’s experience on the show

3. Entering Auditorio Nacional

4. Camillo from Sistema Biobolsa

5. INside the taping

6. Sol Garcia and myself at the Televisoin Taping

7.The winner is announced

8. Zach celebrates back at the IU offices

9.   Enrique Lomnitz talks with David Vargas


BA in DF with IU

Today was definitely badass, and will go down as one of those days that are memorable in that badass way.  My second day as Sol Garcia and myself explore the world and work through the Mexican NGO Isla Urbana.  Today I learned that to be full of shit is actually a good thing, that is if you are a BioBolsa (a 10 meter long bio-bag that when filled with animal excrement ferments it into useable methane (to fuel your stove) and fertilizer for your crops at the same time!  We visited several homes in the pueblos of Tlalpan where there is no water from the Delegacion (the city) and the people rely on Pipas (water delivery trucks) and now, rainwater harvesting through Isla Urbana.  We met an amazing woman, Guille, who is for sure the most badass woman in the hills of Llano of San Miguel!  She has been fighting for years to have the Delegacion give the community access to water.  But now she is part of a pilot project to implement the rainwater harvesting systems, and is bringing her community together to have the same systems.  You gotta love it!  The last 24 hours have also included a visit to a street tacquera, El Cunado, and of course some tequila before bed!  Tomorrow night a big party at an amazing labyrinth, to celebrate David Vargas, el presidente of Solucione Pluvial!  Can I say it again…yes…badass!



1.&2. the offices of Isla Urbana

3. David Vargas conducts a meeting outside with Edgar, a recent intern

4. Chile Reyenos curtesy of Carmen the amazing kitchen maven at IU

5. Part of the Team, Carrie, Zach, Terian, Jen and Hiram!

6. Scaling rooftops to check out recently installed systems

7. Waiting to access a community participants home for a followup

8. I get “the eye” from a community participants daughter

9. Guille, an amazing community activist sounding the call for IU

10. Jen White points out the benefits of the BioBolsa

11. Sol and I outside a greenhouse

12. The best Tacos ever are just a few meters from where I’m staying (just sayin!)

13. Goodbye from the land of Dia de los Muertos



@8000 ft with Isla Urbana

Last night I arrived into Mexico City at 10pm, hired a cab and began my journey to the main Isla Urbana sight on the SW perimieter of D.F., which also happens to be the highest point in the city.  DF is surrounded by 64 mountains, and the community of Tlalpan where the office and housing is located is the highest point in the city, so when I woke this morning I was feeling the effect of high altitude for the first time in my life!  At first I thought I was hung over, (but I only shared 1/2 pint of beer with David Vargas last night!), and the dizzyness and lightheadedness was striking and unusual to anything I had felt before.  Not letting that stop me, I am busy today getting the facts on this amazing NGO, the work they are doing, the stories I think will be the most important to cover and the ideas that Jenn White the community relations director and I have been brainstorming on  They are an uber cool organization, and I am more than impressed with everything they have cooking, and I mean this literally, as they are as we speak part of a project implementing the Sistema Bio-Bolsa (a geo-membrane bio bag that ferments animal excrement into methane gas for cooking and super rich fertilizer!)  More on this to come.  In the meantime I have been given the story from the ground up on RainWater Harvesting, and can’t wait to share more with you.  Please follow myself and Sol Garcia as we meet the players in the story of water in Mexico City through the eyes of the Isla Urbana Team and the individuals in the community they are bringing water security to!

Rooftop Garden with Rainwater Catchement System at Isla Urbana in DF Mexico


On the Road to Mexico

Walking my dog in the crisp Vancouver sun this morning I felt lucky.  Tomorrow I will be flying to Mexico City. Sol Garcia of Project X Impact and I are on the road again, this time we are teaming up with ISLA URBANA, an amazing organization that is helping thousands of people in the barrios of Mexico City with water.  We often think of Africa, Haiti and other countries when it comes to the water crisis, but it exists in so many locations that we are less aware of.  One would think that Mexico City is not necessarily one of those places, but in actual fact daily, millions of people living there, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters strain to meet their fundamental water demands.  Isla Urbana is facilitating the widespread adoption of rainwater harvesting, a sustainable solution to the world’s water problems. 

We will be visiting the projects and staying in Tlalpan, the barrio district where they are working, meeting the families and seeing the process.  We are thrilled to have been invited to work with them, and to share the stories first hand.  So I am dusting up on my Spanish, getting my equipment ready, and excited to meet a new group of people doing the right thing! vida y el agua

Sol and I will both be collecting stories and images to share, and we have decided to post this blog together!

As you know, Cate and I are both passionate about this water crisis and doing something about it. We will be visiting the organization for a week (starting next week Nov 3rd-9th) and doing what we do best, researching and bringing the knowledge to the public! I will be interviewing community members about their experiences and Cate will capture it all and more. We will have wifi at our place of stay and will be blogging from there. I think this is a great opportunity.  For me, it hits home because I’ve long wanted to do a project in Mexico being that my family is from there.  I’ve been visitng every other year and I’ve grown up seeing the need and the situation.  In Mexico City alone, 8 million people lack access to adequate water.  I’m excited that Cate and I can team up again and I look forward to this continuing.