In 2010, Laurel resident Beverly Hunt and friend and business partner Sylvia Baffour traveled to Ghana to distribute water filters they had purchased for villagers living without access to clean drinking water. In February, reporter Gwendolyn Glenn returned to the Ghanaian village to report on the health benefits residents experienced by having water filters.
Clean drinking water is a scarce commodity in most parts of the West African country of Ghana. According to Water Aid America, as many as nine million Ghanaians do not have access to good drinking water. Even those with tap water boil and filter it before using it to drink or cook.
But in many remote, high-poverty areas of the country, most people can't afford to buy filters or have no electricity to boil water and end up drinking unsanitary water, filled with bacteria.
Laurel resident Beverly Hunt, who has visited Ghana several times, found the country's water problems disturbing and decided to do something about it.
"Once we were out of the city and in rural areas, you would see people gathering water in the same places where animals were romping around and drinking because they had no other choice," Hunt said.
Four years ago, Hunt — who helped found College Shine, a company that connects students in Africa with higher education institutions — and her business partner, Sylvia Baffour, a native Ghanaian who now lives in Washington, raised enough money from family and friends to buy 55 clay water filters for needy families in Ghana.
Baffour said she wished she had thought of doing this earlier.
"It makes so much sense because the clay water filter can filter out so many of the water-borne diseases," Baffour said. "Sometimes it takes an outsider coming in, seeing things with a different set of eyes and coming up with a solution that's easy to do."
Baffour's mother, Emma Baffour, found a good deal for them on the water filters at $20 apiece and in 2010 the two returned to Ghana to deliver the filters to disadvantaged families in Kordiabe, Ghana.
They also distributed filters to an orphanage for children whose parents died of AIDS; and a community where people were recovering from leprosy, or Hansen's disease.
In February, several of the families in Kordiabe who received the clay water filters from Hunt and Baffour were at the village's clinic and talked about how their health has improved significantly since they began using the filters.
Belinda Opong, who has a household of eight, said like most families in Kordiabe, her home does not have running water. Prior to receiving the clay water filter, she collected water from the local dam.
Most of Kordiabe's 3,600 residents get their water from that dam, a large body of brownish-colored water on a long, narrow dirt road, that's often lined with people of all ages, carrying buckets to collect water. The dam is also a place where people swim and some wash their clothes. Most residents who use the water report having various illnesses from drinking it, including Opong's family.
"I've had typhoid and one of my neighbors had a bad skin rash," Opong said. "I was elated when I was told I would get a water filter. Now, we're not sick because we're using the water filter. I use the filtered water for cooking and drinking."
The clay water filter works this way. A large, thick clay bowl sits on top of a 7-gallon plastic container . Water is poured into the clay bowl and, because of its porous makeup, impurities are trapped and the silver on the inside and outside of the clay pot kills the bacteria. It takes about a day to filter enough water to fill the plastic container.
Opong's neighbor, Salomey Tetteh, who boils her water before pouring it into the clay bowl, said the filter is easy to use.
Opong has five children and in the past filled buckets of water for her family from a nearby stream. Through an interpreter, she said, "The cattle would drink from the stream and my children got a lot of skin diseases. One suffered from typhoid."
A small hill, surrounded by trees along a main highway, leads to that stream. It looks like a mud hole, with murky water that does not look safe for human consumption. But for many people in Kordiabe, the streams and water holes are their closest options, so they take the chance of using it.
Since receiving the water filter, Tetteh said her family's health also improved.
"The entire family got better with the arrival of the water filters and were no longer falling sick all the time," she said.
Reuben Allotuynii's family did not get a clay water filter and they get their water from the dam. On a sunny day in February, he and several friends sat in a boat after swimming in the dam and began to collect water in their hands to drink. He said they are not afraid of drinking the cloudy water, even though they have gotten sick a lot after drinking it.
"I've had diarrhea, a lot of sickness, but if we are thirsty, we drink it," Allotuynii said.
A bit farther down the long dirt road that runs alongside the dam, a group of teenagers were also swimming in the dam. Eeric Frempong said they drink the water as well, even though they know it is not hygienic and people sometimes wash their clothes in the dam.
"Sometimes ... people get diarrhea and stuff, typhoid fever and stuff," said Frempong, who suffered from typhoid fever over a two-week period recently.
According to Emglia Amoa, who has worked at Kordiabe's clinic for 10 years, there has been a noticeable improvement in health overall since some people began using the water filters.
"About 40 to 50 people who live in Kordiabe and other nearby villages used to come here every day with skin rashes and other diseases because they were not using piped water," Amoa said. "We don't get as many now but water is still a big problem here. Those using water from streams are not OK. Those using the filters are OK."
Kordiabe is about two hours from Accra. There are a few modest homes in the community, but most middle class and educated people left Kordiabe to look for work in Ghana's larger cities. Many of the residents left behind are elderly or children. Most of these families live in one- and two-room homes with tin roofs. Some are made of cinder blocks and some of mud. In addition to not having piped water, the majority also do not have sewer systems, which contributes to the poor water quality in the area.
The Rev. Andrew Campbell, who helped Hunt and Baffour identify families and others in Kordiabe who needed a water filter, said he feels frustrated because few options are available to improve the community's water quality.
"The local government officials are not usually around to help people in Kordiabe — they have other priorities," said Campbell, who lives in Accra but has built a large clinic, renovated the local school and its library and built a home to attract a doctor to the area. "Government officials will tell you that the dam is there, so where do we turn?"
Since Hunt and Baffour's visit to Kordiabe, 10 public water taps throughout the community have been installed for residents to get water. But Campbell pointed out that the tap water comes from the polluted dam. The nuns at the clinic he built only use that water to flush their toilets.
Residents, many who live on a dollar a day and can't afford to buy bottled water or bags of water sold on the street, say the public water taps are better than the dirty streams they used in the past. However, Campbell and others said some of the taps have been out of service for three months at a time.
"Those who tend the cattle, they purposely break the pipe so they can give water to the cattle," Campbell said. "You see the kids having a bath in it and see the cattle drinking from it. Muddy, dirty water."
Which is why Campbell said the clay water filters Hunt and Baffour delivered four years ago were a godsend.
"The small things in life make a lot of difference and bring a lot of joy, and in this case, it's health that was brought to this community," Campbell said. "The 55 water filters is a drop of water, but yet the village is better off. I can't calculate the good things that have come from this but I can say many people have benefited from these water filters. I thank them very much for their kind donations."
Sadly, Salomey Tetteh's children broke her water filter's clay bowl and they are getting their water these days from the public tap. Through an interpreter, she said, "The taps are better than fetching from the stream, but because the filters are not available, they still fall sick and are not as healthy as when they had the water filter.
Time to do more
Back in Laurel, Hunt and Baffour said they remembered Tetteh as they looked at recent pictures of her and other recipients of the water filters they distributed in Kordiabe. They were saddened to hear that Tetteh's filter is broken.
"We'll make sure to put a call out to find a way to get one to her family," Hunt said, adding she would contact Campbell and others who helped identify the families in need of water filters.
"It was nice to know what a tangible difference the filter made that she could observe," Baffour said. "I've never had to drink river water and here in the West, we take clean water for granted. It makes me feel happy that in some small way, without over-thinking it, that we've contributed to something important."
For both Baffour and Hunt, their efforts to improvement water used by households in Ghana are not over.
Hunt said hearing about the affect of their donation "makes me feel that we need to get together this year and find ways to raise money to buy more clay water filters, so we can continue helping families in Ghana. We're going to do that."
To make a contribution toward the purchase of water filters for Ghana, contact Beverly Hunt at email@example.com.