Sunny Forsyth wanted to do something to make a difference, so he did. An engineer and social entrepreneur based in Canberra, Australia, he started Abundant Water, which facilitates the transfer of the technology of ceramic water filters to village potters in Laos PDR. A year ago, with seed funding from Canberra Rotary, he began working with Nou Kham, a Lao potter, to develop clay pot water filters which filter out pathogens to provide clean drinking water for people in this area. Together, in this short time, they have not only adapted Lao pottery traditions to ceramic water filters, but have established a training facility where they are training potters to manufacture the filters themselves. This enables them to return to their villages as micro-financed water-filter businesses. Since Sunny is currently in Lao PDR, I spoke with Barbara Forsyth, one of the founders of Abundant Water (and Sunny’s mom!), about how Abundant Water is making a HUGE difference.
Love and Water- What prompted Sunny to start Abundant Water?
Barbara Forsyth- Four years ago my son had a comfortable position as an engineer in the Public Service. Life was very comfortable, but he felt as if something was missing. He applied for the AYAD (Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development) program and spent a year working for an anti human trafficking organization in Laos. The most satisfying part of that year was when he was personally and directly responsible for removing four women from sex slavery, finding them jobs, and setting them up for a new life. This project was an overwhelming success and immensely satisfying, and he wanted to do more. He talked to development veterans and the successful ones all shared the same wisdom- they said do small projects, think long term, focus on building relationships and work from understanding. At that time he had formed a relationship with a remarkable Lao community in need of better water, and after many meetings had developed a deep mutual respect. He and some friends formed a partnership with a local Lao NGO and approached the Australian Embassy for funds to build a small biogas methane digester to provide cooking gas for their hospital. Working side by side with the local community project was a success. After sharing his story with friends and strangers he noticed a very common response: everyone wants to make a difference. Many, many people wanted to be involved in the project, in some way or other. They all wanted to experience the satisfaction of directly helping someone who really needs it. With nothing more than seed funding and volunteer pledges he returned to Laos to commence the pilot project. Over the course of the year we have shown that a reliable filter can consistently be produced. We now have volunteers contributing from every continent. Now that we have shown that Lao potters can produce these filters it is time to get them out into the field and teaching Lao villagers to make and use their own. This is where the real benefit will be realized.
L&W- What would you say is the main driving force behind Abundant Water?
BF- I think that WHAT is the important word there. For myself it is both the pressing need of the water situation and satisfying the inbuilt ‘need’ to do something good that I can be proud of. So trying to address the needs of the critical water situation, step by step moving towards this concrete goal, is a way of making a contribution to society and fulfilling the personal need to make a difference. Once people realize they have something to contribute and can connect it to contributing to the greater cause then they feel motivated.
L&W- What exactly does Abundant Water provide as an organization (the nuts and bolts of the organization)?
BF- Abundant Water provides an open source community that is facilitating training in water filter production so the end product is: filters, and more training. The holy grail would be a filter training that is self replicating and perpetuating.
L&W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had so far with Abundant Water?
SF- For me, the success of our first fund-raising effort, the excellent attendance and generosity of those who attended, despite the fact that we are rank amateurs, was very moving. For Sunny, in response to technical advice, Noukham (Abundant Water’s pioneer potter) started to use a steel grate in the firing of the ceramic water filters. When she saw this was successful, she introduced this technique into the production of the pots she makes for her livelihood. This increased the quality and profitability of her pots. At that point he started to realize how easy technology transfer could be if the motivations were already there anyway. And for my husband, Stuart, the rate at which Abundant Water is developing in Lao PDR is very moving. An example of this is that Doug, a long time resident of Vientiane, has made his compound available for a training center.
L&W- What kind of awareness have you been able to raise through Social Media for Abundant Water?
BF- Quite a bit. A few examples are the June 2009 Twitter Challenge Top10Causes, which @abundantwater reached third place (http://twitter.com/Top10Causes); in August 2009 Allianz Knowledge, which is a division of Allianz Insurance Group and focuses on Climate Change, Energy, Microfinance, Demographic Change, and Safety and Health, included Abundant Water in a media feature entitled “10 Ways to Address Water Scarcity“ ( http://knowledge.allianz.com/en/media/galleries/water_supply_solutions.html); in September 2009 the Abundant Water Video is posted on The Water Channel
L&W- What is the one message you would like young people to understand about Abundant Water?
BF- Sunny says that getting young people to believe they have something to contribute to the world and not to feel overwhelmed or hopeless but motivated to do something they feel moved to do is essential. I think that everyone wants to do something to make a difference but they usually talk themselves out of it.
L&W- I think Abundant Water is an inspiration for people to take action. Thanks so much.
Visit Abundant Water’s site here: http://www.abundantwater.org/abundant/
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