“Alexa, volume zero.” Sitting at his desk in a small room on the second floor of a warehouse in Makati, Carlo Delantar tells his virtual assistant to tone down the hip background music that had been playing when I arrived. The place looks industrial in that it is mostly bare, with a few laptops in separate stations, some appliances, fluorescent lights hanging overhead, and a modest couch. One wall is shelved with things you might expect in the room of a 25-year old guy like Carlo: Star Wars movie posters, some tasteful Shepard Fairey-inspired artwork, a bunch of magazines, and a signed copy of an Obey Giant coffee table book. But this isn’t Carlo’s room—it’s his headquarters.
The opposite wall is a huge photo grid: a mix of scenic ocean vistas and families of rural communities, with a map of the Philippines up on an easel to the side. Carlo offers me whiskey from his stash before proceeding to explain his work as the Philippine country director of Waves For Water, a humanitarian non-profit that provides clean water solutions to remote communities in need and areas that have been affected by natural disasters.
“It started out as a surfing organization in the US,” Carlo tells me. Waves For Water was founded in 2009 by a pro surfer named Jon Rose, whose idea was to find a way for travelers to do what they love: surfing, mountaineering, biking, other sorts of adventure—all while helping the communities they visit along the way. This was done through a Courier Program that equipped travelers with compact clean water filters made with a special membrane that essentially sieves out harmful bacteria—the same technology used for kidney dialysis. The travelers would then distribute these filters to people in the areas they visit, teaching them how to use it and why it’s important to have clean water. It grew to become a global network of people who brought clean water systems to thousands of communities in need.
Eventually, Waves For Water would reach the Philippines through an uncanny connection: Paul Walker (yeah, Fast And The Furious Paul Walker), who was a friend of Jon Rose, and whose foundation, Reach Out Worldwide, called them in to help with relief operations for victims of Typhoon Yolanda. This was when Waves For Water found Carlo, who was referred by a surfing connection on social media.
“I was just tagged on Facebook,” Carlo recalls. “This girl, she’s a Malibu surfer and [based in] La Union, she put up something on Facebook that said ‘Clean water organization looking for headquarters in Cebu’ and my friend, si Hanz, tagged me.”
Realizing the world of good that it could do for the victims of Yolanda, Carlo met the Waves For Water team and offered his help. “During that time, I wasn’t even in line to be where I am now. I was just a guy who was referred to help out. And I guess it was me just stepping up, not knowing what I was getting myself into. But I just felt like [it was] a better way to help people.”
Today, Carlo runs the entire operation of Waves For Water in the country, with a lean team that embarks on approximately 10 clean water missions every month, has responded to every major natural disaster in the Philippines since they started, and has reached over 50 Philippine provinces so far—with the goal of hitting all 81. They’ve been to the southernmost island in the country and are about to visit the northernmost. Their work includes filter distribution, but also infrastructure development like water well restoration, and setting up rain catchment systems and water tanks.
To accomplish these, Carlo has also formed partnerships with local companies with social responsibility programs like Landbank, as well as affiliations like the Land Rover Club, and even the Philippine military. He also makes sure that these partners really get on the ground and go on the missions with them—“sweat equity,” he calls it—an essential aspect of sustainable humanitarian work.
“In the Philippines—wherever you go, someone needs clean water,” Carlo says. We who have access to clean water on a daily basis take it for granted, but its importance to remote communities who don’t have the same access cannot be understated. “It’s normal for them to have diarrhea. It’s normal for them to have E. coli,” Carlo says, clearly appalled. “It’s normal for them! That’s weird!” So when Waves For Water drops by and provides these communities with a clean water solution, the improvement in public health is drastic.
Carlo even recalls receiving feedback from one of the families who benefited from Waves’ clean water, who told him that because their kids stopped getting sick, they were able to save enough on hospital bills that they could put to better education.
Another community in Casiguran, Aurora took the filters that were given to them by Waves For Water and passed them around the region so they could benefit even more people in even further-flung areas.
One community in Siargao was suffering from an epidemic of a deadly disease called schistosomiasis, or snail fever, because their water sources were contaminated with snail slime. Clean water, in this case and many others, directly saved lives. Another community in Casiguran, Aurora took the filters that were given to them by Waves For Water and passed them around the region so they could benefit even more people in even further-flung areas.
“There’s this whole ripple effect—and you don’t feel that,” Carlo says of the fruits of his humanitarian work. “It’s not something you feel [until] the next few years, when you see the long-term effects.”
Apart from running Waves For Water here in the Philippines, Carlo is also the co-founder and director of Altum, a sustainable furniture company. He comes from a family business that brought him up with an outlook for social good initiatives. “I was born and raised in a business, and I didn’t even know at that time, but societal impact was ingrained in me,” he says. “We provided housing to our staff, to our workers. I felt like that was normal. But when I got older, [I realized that] it’s not a normal thing pala. You’re going out of your way to help people. Until then, it felt natural.” That, plus some time with a civic organization called Junior Chamber International, and a stint as a shoe-giver for Toms Shoes, were the only precedents to Carlo’s work with Waves For Water. He says he “was never a volunteer kind of guy,” but today, his work is saving lives and helping thousands of people.
“The thing about the Philippines is—Filipinos, it’s ingrained in us to help,” says Carlo, beaming with optimism. “It’s more a question of technology. How can they help? They don’t know how to help. They didn’t even know there was a technology to clean dirty water. But we have the resources, there is technology. It’s more of a question of providing that access and looking for those forgotten pockets.” And that’s essentially what Carlo has done with Waves For Water: by throwing existing clean water technologies into existing equations, he’s given people the opportunity to help those in need—on a massive scale.
“Sometimes it’s daunting,” he says. “Mentally, it’s draining to see the big responsibility. But if you don’t think about it, the work goes on naman.”
To learn how you can help bring clean water to those in need, visit the Waves For Water website, follow the Waves For Water Facebook page, or get in touch with Carlo Delantar through [email protected]