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Grass roots water filter people ''Potters for Peace''
Category: Water | By RAGM, 27-Sep-2011 | Viewed 5668  Comments 0
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I came across "Potters for Peace (PFP)" website a few years ago while serving as Peace Corps volunteer in México.  I was searching for suitable household water treatment system for a rural children's project.  The Ceramic Water Purification system (CWP) by PFP had all the elements I was looking for:  effective (99.88% removal of biological agents,) low-cost, sustainable, and locally fabricated even in the most remote areas of the globe.  The project did not go forward, but I kept visiting the website often to see what is happening with the organization, and to figure out when will be a good time for me to join, so that I could be a good contributing member of the group.  Since then I returned from México and settled back in my hometown in Illinois, joined Rotary club, and most importantly became a member of RAGM.  Then this perfect moment arrived to write about my admired organization, "Potters for Peace."

The UN Millennium Development Goals call for a reduction of child mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2015.  However, while the deadline draws closer, the progress has been slow and much more remains to be accomplished.   The world looses 1.5 million children under five years of age each year to diarrhea, a disease easily preventable and treatable.  World Health Organization (WHO) promotes household water treatments such as chlorination, filtration, boiling and solar disinfection as primary prevention methods for diarrhea.  However, in spite of the improvement made last 20 years in drinking water globally, it is still reported that almost one  billion people lack access to clean drinking water and many households do not treat or safely store their household water supplies (UNICEF/WHO, 2009).

Potters for Peace (PFP) is a US based not-for-profit organization and a member of the WHO's International Network to Promote Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage. Founded in Nicaragua in 1986 by a dedicated group of potters from the Washington D.C area, the goal of PFP is to offer support, solidarity and friendship to developing world potters, to assist with appropriate technologies sustained using local skills and materials; to help preserve cultural traditions; and to assist in marketing locally, regionally, and internationally.  The vast majority of potters in Central America are rural women and the core work for PFP has been assisting these hard-working people to earn a better living. 

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Since 1989 PFP has a full-time presence in Nicaragua, and the goal is to meet and offer assistance to every potter in Nicaragua.  PFP encourages these potters to maintain their unique aesthetic vocabulary and at the same time assist and train them in obtaining and using technologies that can help to make their work economically sustainable.  PFP also help them find markets outside of their local communities.   A persistent problem with working in Nicaragua was logistics of transportation to many of the remote pottery communities; PFP did not have a vehicle, renting trucks and drivers was expensive and travel by bus impractical.  PFP built a central training center so that potters can stay a few days while learning new techniques.  It is located in La Paz Centro, 45 minutes outside of Managua, and consists of three buildings: a dormitory, a cooking and dining building, and a workshop/salesroom.  Several sessions have already been carried out in this new facility.

In October 1998 Hurricane Mitch tore through Central America.  As was one of the most destructive hurricanes ever, it destroyed much of the regional water supply system.  Safe water became urgently needed.  This prompted PFP to adopt the low-cost ceramic water filter system developed by Dr. Fernando Mazariegos of the Central American Industrial Research Institute (CAIR) in Guatemala, and began its production workshop in Nicaragua.  In the first six months, over 5000 filters were distributed through non-governmental organizations. A CWP is a simple bucket-shaped (11" diameter, 10"deep) clay vessel that is made from a mix of local terra-cotta clay and sawdust or other combustibles, such as rice husk.  The filters are formed by using a press.  The filters are tested for standard rate of filtration and then coated with colloidal silver.  The combination of proper pore size and the bactericidal properties of colloidal silver produce an effective filter.   The fired and treated filter is placed in a five-gallon plastic or ceramic receptacle with a lid and faucet.  Water passes through the filter at the rate of 1.5 to 2.5 liters per hour.   Price for the final product including the receptacle is determined by local production cost, and is about between $15 and $25.  Replacement clay filters may cost $4 to $6.  A basic production facility with three or four workers can produce about fifty filters a day. 

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PFP has since provided consultation and training to set up production facilities in Guatemala, Honduras, México, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ghana, El Salvador, the Darfur region of Sudan, Kenya, Benin, Yemen, Nigeria, Tanzania, Peru, Somaliland and other countries. The UN Appropriate Technology Handbook has cited the CWP, and hundreds of thousands of filters have been distributed worldwide by organizations such as the International Federation of the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Doctors without Borders, UNICEF, Plan International, Project Concern International, Oxfam and USAID.  The CWP system is laboratory and field tested by various institutions including MIT, Tulane University, University of Colorado and University of North Carolina.

Today, PFP enjoys 800 members; mostly potters who help fund its operations by individual donations and fundraising events.  Board of ten members including a filter committee and four technical consultants who oversees the CWP program is actively involved in its operation. PFP operates on a low yearly budget of about $100,000 from donations and grants, and continues to work with artisan potters to improve their equipment, skills and marketing opportunities.   
Potters for Peace offers an annual two-week tour (Or "Brigade") of Nicaraguan pottery communities  that allows U.S. potters or anyone interested to see how the organization works and   share techniques and  support with their Nicaraguan counterparts. 

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I have been wanting to join this "brigade" for some years.  I need to make it a reality soon.  Also, now I'm living in the world of Microcredit, and I see numerous possibilities of connecting dots:  The PFP potters of Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa and Rotarians everywhere…

Go to http://www.pottersforpeace.org to read more about the PFP

Contributed by Helen Ashraf, Volunteer Director, RAGM
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