Clean water trickles out

by Sue Sprenkle, posted Monday, May 17, 2010 (9 years ago)

KENYA (BP)--Reddish-brown water gurgles in the blue five-gallon bucket. There's no chance of seeing the bottom through this muddy mess.

"That's our drinking water. We get it from the river," says Moses, a health care worker in a remote Kenyan village. He holds up a glass and motions to the bucket. "You want some?"

Is he joking? Drink that? Before any polite objections can even be thought of, Moses brings a glass of water so sparkling clean you can see his smiling face through it.

Is it really the same water?

Moses vigorously shakes his head "yes" and points to a second container labeled "Chujio" in bright white letters. He motions for the women to pour fresh river sludge into a ceramic flowerpot sitting neatly inside the container. Amazingly, clean water trickles out.

What appears to be a flowerpot is actually a ceramic water filter called "Chujio" (choo-gee-oh), which means "sieve" in Swahili. It filters out harmful bacteria and parasites that cause diarrhea, cholera and other waterborne diseases. It also filters dirt, odor and color from contaminated water.

"Since you brought the Chujio to us, the rate of diarrhea has gone down in our village," Moses says, thanking American donors for purchasing more than 300 filters for distribution. "Before, we drank straight from the river. It is very contaminated."

Diarrhea may not sound that serious, but it is. According to the World Health Organization, every year there are 4 billion cases of diarrhea due to drinking contaminated water -– resulting in 2.2 million deaths. This is the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.

Contaminated water wreaks the most havoc in children. UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) reports 1.4 million children die every year from diarrhea caused by unclean water. This averages out to 4,000 children dying every day or one child every 20 seconds.

This water crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. Moses has seen his share of death due to contaminated water, yet his hopes of eradicating the needless illnesses remain high because of the Chujio. He emphasizes his point by taking a drink from my still untouched glass of water.

A LABOR OF LOVE

The miraculous transformation of river sludge to clean water starts in the back corner of a "mom and pop" shop near Limuru, Kenya. Small ceramic stoves and flowerpots, which were once the main products of this factory, now take a back seat to Kenyan potter Kamwana Wambugu's new passion -- water filters.

The month-long production process can be described only as a labor of love for Wambugu and his family. Pure joy shines in the potter's eyes as he dips his hand into a ceramic powder so fine it can be mistaken for flour.

"The filters require a fine powder mixed with sawdust. If it's too big, all of the dirt and stuff will pass through," he says of the production plans by Potters for Peace, a U.S.-based organization that teaches the fabrication of low-cost ceramic water filters to potters in developing countries. "The pots are also dipped into a colloidal silver mixture that kills any remaining bacteria."

UNICEF and Massachusetts Institute of Technology studies show that 99.9 percent of contaminates are blocked out through the process. The use of a household water treatment, such as Chujio, can lead to a 39 percent reduction of diarrhea and curtail death rates by 25 percent.

Wambugu shrugs off the statistics, contending the whole thing speaks for itself: You put dirty water in; it comes out clean and no one gets sick. For just $25 a filter, an entire family can enjoy clean water for three years.

The potter insists it doesn't get much simpler than that. No matter how matter-of-fact Wambugu tries to be, he can't hide the compassion radiating from his eyes as he explains helping Kenyans have access to clean water is his driving force.

"We are reaching more and more people. We went from making 50 filters a day to 150," Wambugu says, giving credit for the increase in production to a Southern Baptist community development grant that provided a new kiln, giant mixer and workspace.

"We have taken it up as our duty to produce the best water filters that we can. Like this one here," Wambugu says, picking up the device.

"It will turn dirty water into clean. It will save a life."


Sue Sprenkle is a writer for the International Mission Board’s global communications team. To provide a water filter for a family in Sub-Saharan Africa or other needy places, donations can be made either by sending a check to IMB, Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230 with "Water Fund" on the notes line. The cost of one filter is $25.00.

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