Carlo Delantar walks into the room with bright eyes and a boyish grin, his presence capable of turning any gloomy setting into something just a bit more optimistic. An apt skill, considering the 26-year-old is working for the international non-profit, Waves 4 Water (W4W). Confessing to being camera-shy, Delantar throws jokes and witty asides, making the photo shoot feel like a college graduation pictorial, rather than a portrait session for winning a place in Forbes Magazines' prestigious "top 30-under-30" list—a recognition awarded to "youthful visionaries vetted from thousands of nominations, based on the collective wisdom of the online community, ace reporters, and a panel of A-list judges." Now on its seventh year, the awards' "4,000-strong alumni network spans the globe—continuing to spotlight the impressive, the inspiring and the (genuinely) enviable."
But Delantar's road to where he is now hasn't been easy.
The young Delantar explains the slight limp in his knee. He reveals that he's recently been treated for patelar tendonitis, a condition brought about by excess calcium deposits around his knees. Treated via the use of focused soundwaves, the ailment is common in long-distance runners. And when one considers that Delantar has traveled 100,000 miles in 2017 alone, it becomes clear why he has it. “I fly, but often the work involves a lot of walking in hot, sometimes rainy and rocky terrain. Think of it like camping, but with military-style elements." Then again, he's used to it, ever since his first stint for W4W some five years ago.
A stormy beginning
It began with water, in the form of a storm like no other. Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 devastated the Philippines and in particular, the Visayas, where Delantar is from. Born and raised in Cebu, the then 21-year-old Delantar had a family who had the resources to quickly bounce back from the tragedy. Not everyone is so lucky. All around him, in the surrounding islands of Panay, Leyte, and Samar, Delantar saw families uprooted, homes overturned, and livelihoods washed away. Like many others, he wanted to help. And ironically, the solution would be in the form of water, and the way towards it was a serendipitous tag on Facebook. It was simple. A non-profit needed someone in Cebu who could be their resource person, their "man on the ground."
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Holding two water states from dirty water to clean water passing through the filter. The result is instant.
Filter demonstration and assembly is essential to our program. We make sure we teach the beneficiaries how to take care of the filters.
Town hall meeting at a remote island in Surigao province. Switching dialect to Bisaya is important for communities to understand our demonstration.
Developing and empowering local networks require partners, and those partners take leadership roles in implementing W4W programs with their own skills, and act as exemplars in their respective communities," says Delantar.
It started as a tag on Facebook calling for help for Yolanda victims, now Carlo Delantar is country director for Waves for Water, bringing clean water to over 50 provinces in the Philippines so far.
Community leaders after a filter demonstration. This community was provided with water tanks and filters to supplement capacity for the locals.
Local champions are taught how to maintain the filters by backflushing impurities. Maintaining the filters prolongs the life of the filters for up to 5 years.
Kids and the elderly are prone to water-borne diseases. Clean water is essential for their well-being.
Tawi-tawi community examine the integrity of the water filter systems.This community hopped across islands to meet us for clean water access.
Sunrise photo on top of Bonggao Peak, Tawi-tawi. It is said to be a holy place for the locals.
Delantar, with a penchant for entrepreneurship and a degree in food technology from California, did what any sensible 21st-century millennial would do: he went online to get more information. What he found was former pro-surfer Jon Rose's Waves 4 Water non-profit, an organization committed to "getting clean water to every person who needs it." The organization believes that access to clean water "improves personal and civic well-being, increases overall health, reduces poverty, and increases opportunities for education and employment, contributing to the overall advancement of individuals and their communities." The group works on the front lines to bring access to clean water by distributing portable water filters, facilitating the digging and renovation of wells, and building systems for harvesting and storing rainwater where groundwater is not available.
Delantar was immediately on board. He messaged the team, who came back with only one request: "Get us there."
Delantar remembers their first meeting at the airport, looking up at the Waves 4 Water people, sheepishly introducing himself, then getting right down to business. "Guys, I can take you around and everything, but if you want to help, we can help right away. There's a crisis center not far from here." Delantar chuckles, remembering the team looking at each other, before getting back to him with an enthusiastic, "Yeah, let's do that!" They distributed W4W's filters, each one, depending on its configuration, can filter one million gallons of water up to 0.1 microns absolute; it can ensure clean water to 100 people for up to five years. Lightweight and portable, each filter is also affordable, costing just 15 to 50 US dollars. People were naturally skeptical. How could this little device do as much as it claimed? But it wasn't long before the W4W filters, and the team behind it, proved itself. Aside from distributing filters, Delantar also states that they've raised USD 400,000 in funds for the Yolanda relief effort alone.
And that was just the beginning.
The Yolanda effort was exhausting. But it also got Delantar hooked. He was casually asked if he would like to be the Waves4Water country director, and he agreed—but with a caveat. He told the team to temper their expectations, because as temperamental as the weather was in the Philippines, its political climate was even more tumultuous. "You don't necessarily know the bad guys from the good guys."
The group pushed through with his directorship, giving Delantar a title, an email address, and a budget, something which caused a bit of a stir. "They were surprised at first because I did proper liquidation of expenses. They weren't used to that. But me being raised as an entrepreneur, it wasn't new, it was just something I did." And yet the title would require more than just doing what he always did. Delantar would quickly discover a more formidable form of exhaustion: donor fatigue. He explains that this is how most disaster response goes. Something happens, an outpouring of support flows in, then after a while funding peters out, and follow-up funds for efforts to help dry up. To keep funds surging, Delantar did two things. First, he switched from the regular humanitarian model of asking for money towards a more story-based approach. He cites W4W's core story, of "doing what you love, and helping along the way"—a philosophy about "following your heart and plugging purpose into your passion, encouraging people to look at aid-work or humanitarianism as a lifestyle, rather than a component of doing good and giving back." So whether people are into sailing, surfing, biking, or hiking—they can plug in an added humanitarian purpose along the way. It isn't meant to displace what they do, it's meant to enhance it. This "guerrilla humanitarianism" approach proved more enticing to some groups and businesses, who want to help directly, cutting across red tape, skirting the need to establish their own divisions dedicated to aid work, and "effecting a global change, through philanthropic initiatives in a more decentralized way." Which is why, in every community they enter, Delantar spearheads the drive to find interesting stories that people can relate to.
Delantar has also moved to Manila. The shift hasn't been easy, and he recalls the first few days approaching friends and family, hat-in-hand, for donations and support, a task which isn't easy for anyone, even if he was a bright-eyed 23-year-old with a passion for helping others. But Delantar was raised in a family who ingrained in him a penchant for creating a meaningful impact in society. He grew up seeing his family provide housing for their employees, and believes helping others is ingrained in Filipinos. Help did arrive. Today, W4W has partners across government, CSR groups, and corporate brands. They count luxury car maker BMW, sports fashion giant NIKE, and the surfing brand Hurley as sponsors. Some companies even go out of their way just to help out. Top bag maker Tumi, for instance, is never on sale—unless it's for Waves4Water.
The fashion brand has a 20-percent-off season where five percent of all profits go to W4W. This activity raised over half a million US dollars in 2017 alone. Locally, W4W partnered with Landbank, Land Rover Club of the Philippines, and Columbia. Aside from companies, several prominent personalities have also lent their name, faces, and reputations to W4W: Brazilian actress Danny Suzuki, soccer star Neimar Junior, and super model Janelle Bundchin all act as ambassadors for W4W.
Delantar sits back, closes his eyes, and thinks for a bit. He's come a long way from five years ago, and thinks on his role in the bigger picture.
"The way I judge success in my field is this: that if I step back, I can see people helping each other. My goal is to provide technology, and a platform, that's it." His aims echo W4W's central tenet: "helping the helpers." They believe (based on experience), that "developing and empowering local networks require partners, and that those partners take leadership roles in implementing W4W programs with their own skills, and act as exemplars in their respective communities." This process enables true connection between people, establishing a sense of trust and rapport, and providing a high level of individual attention and personal care to projects.
Delantar reports that W4W has helped one million Filipinos across 50 provinces "stand as one," and aims to take that figure higher. Forbes describes their top 30-under-30 individuals with poignant rhetoric: "What never grows old? The burning desire of youth to reinvent the world." And Delantar's passionate dream to help his countrymen have access to clean water echoes his mentor's experience. He recounts Jon Rose's own beginnings, how he saw his father help out in sub-Saharan Africa, and decided to bring water filters to Indonesia. Fate would have it that they would be just off shore that night, and the sea would go mad. Their boat was tossed and flung about. But what father and son felt was nothing compared to what they saw. A tsunami had hit the coast, and a scene of apocalyptic proportions greeted them. Buildings were gutted, fires had sprung, and tons of debris wounded thousands of people. Jon Rose's crew and filters were there in time to help relief efforts and alleviate the situation.
"When I look back, it's crazy, but it feels like everything happens for a reason," says Delantar. He pauses, and one wonders why. Is he thinking of the prospect of new projects? Blueprints for a new water filter design? A marketing campaign for investors? Whatever it is, its a slice of a future as clear as the clean water he feels everyone deserves.
Photographs by Cholo dela Vega
Grooming by Tin Albano using Nars Cosmetics
This story first appeared in Metro Society Magazine Vol. 15 No.8 2018