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(Enlarge) The Rev. Andrew Campbell, parish priest for Christ the King Parish in Accra, Ghana, accepts clay water filters donated by Laurel resident Beverly Hunt (far right) and Sylvia Baffour (left), a native of Ghana who lives in Washington. (Submitted photo)

Last year, Laurel resident Beverly Hunt visited the West African nation of Ghana for the first time with a close friend, Sylvia Baffour, who was born in Ghana and now lives in Washington.

Hunt said she enjoyed touring the country and seeing many historical sites, such as the Elmina slave castle, where Africans endured horrific conditions before being shipped to America and a life of slavery. To get to the various sites she visited, Hunt traveled through many rural villages where hard-working Ghanaians lived in small tin-roof shacks with few or no modern conveniences.

"It was a wonderful experience to see the villages, but I couldn't help but notice that these places needed a lot of help and I was haunted by that when I returned," she said.

Not being one to sit around and feel bad about a situation, Hunt decided that when she returned to Ghana this year, she would find some way to help.

"After seeing the conditions, I didn't want to just go back as a tourist but to do something that would make a lasting difference on people's lives," she said.

So after consulting with Baffour's mother and uncle in Ghana about areas of need in the rural villages, the two friends took their suggestion of purchasing clay water filters for needy families. Over the past few months, Hunt and Baffour solicited enough donations from their friends and family members to purchase 55 water filters, a much-needed item in Ghana's rural areas.

"Many rural families don't necessarily have running water and have to walk long distances to get water from rivers that they often share with livestock," Baffour said. "Some don't boil the water because getting firewood is a problem, so they drink it as is, sometimes contaminated with animal waste. People get cholera, diarrhea and guinea worm, which is a big problem in West Africa, from drinking this type of water."

In June, Hunt and Baffour returned to Ghana to distribute the clay water filters to rural families that did not have access to clean drinking water.

"I have never felt such a sense of making a difference as I did when we delivered the filters to the villages," Hunt said. "I can't explain the feeling I got, knowing these filters would mean so much to the families."

For some families, the clay water filters will mean not having to stay home from work or keeping their children out of school due to illnesses they contracted from unclean water.

Much of the water in rural areas that many families collect from rivers and streams are often filled with bacteria and parasites, including high levels of E-coli. According to international health organizations, water from wells in many rural areas of the country is also of poor quality. The Union for African Population Studies found that 40 percent of rural homes in Ghana do not have piped water and 90 percent are without sewage systems, which contributes to the poor water quality.

Although they live in a major city, Accra, Baffour's mother and grandmother have used clay water filters to purify their water for many years, which are much different from the screw-on types that are found in the United States.

"The clay water filters have a large, thick clay bowl that sits on top of a plastic container that holds about seven gallons of water. You pour water into the clay pot and it takes about a day for the clay to filter out the basic bacteria that can cause water-borne illnesses," Baffour said. "You can pour gutter water in a clay water filter and it will absorb microscopic impurities through the layers of clay so you can drink it. All of my friends who come here have no problems from drinking my family's water."

The porous makeup of the clay traps impurities, with the exception of chemicals and metals, and the silver that's applied to the inside and outside of the clay pot is what kills bacteria. The filters have been used in numerous emergency relief efforts worldwide and the American Red Cross distributed thousands of them in 2004 following the massive tsunami that hit Southeast Asia that year.

The filters are relatively inexpensive and Hunt said that Emma Baffour, Sylvia's mother, negotiated a discounted price of $18 per clay water filter for them with a manufacturer in Ghana. Hunt credited Harry Blavo, Sylvia's uncle, with being instrumental in helping them identify the most needy families.

"Uncle Harry put us in touch with Father Andrew Campbell, a man who has spent his life raising money for the needy all over Ghana, and Father Campbell told us which communities were in the most need for the filters," Hunt said.

A gift of clean water

Once in Ghana, Hunt, Baffour and Baffour's relatives traveled nearly four hours from Accra on rutted, unmarked roads to get to the village of Kordiabe to meet the Rev. Andrew Campbell, where they distributed 25 of the clay water filters at a local school. There they assembled the filters for the selected families and gave them a demonstration on how to properly operate and care for them.

"You have to wash the clay pot twice a month, and if they care for them according to the instructions, they can last for many years," Baffour said.

In addition to the families at the school, some of the filters went to an orphanage for children in Kordiabe whose parents died of AIDS and to the community of Weija, where people recovering from leprosy, or Hansen's disease, live.

"Most of us don't think of leprosy as still being a health issue for people today, but it is," Hunt said. "Father Campbell works with them and hugs and touches them so people will get over their stereotypes about those with leprosy."

In a video Hunt recorded of the clay water filter distribution, the families are seen listening intently to the demonstration presentation and, when it was over, they showed their gratitude by hugging and shaking hands with Hunt and Baffour. They smiled broadly as many placed the tall water filters on their heads and walked with pride down dusty roads to their homes.

"Seeing the smiles on their faces was wonderful and made me feel good to wake up the next day and know I'd helped to change 55 families' lives," Baffour said. "I've always wanted to do something in Ghana that would bring about permanent change for people, and not just food or money because that only lasts for a few days. The gift of clean water will last a long time and will take care of some of the diseases we have in Ghana. Beverly made this happen."

Hunt is already planning a return trip with Baffour next year and hopes to raise enough money to distribute 100 clay water filters when they go back.

"I tell people, for a small amount, $18, less than what they spend on dinner, they can help a whole family to have better health," Hunt said. "This is a way to save lives because people are dying of cholera and other diseases from unclean water. I'm glad I was able to help in a small way and hope to do more in the future," Hunt said.

"It feels so good to do this."

To find out how to support the effort to distribute additional clay water filters in Ghana, e-mail Beverly Hunt at

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