Posted by Richard Wukich
“We are potters at war against water borne disease” Ron Rivera
My presentation is designed to give information about the Heb (water Jar) makers of Iraq and to document their practices and clay working techniques. The organization, POTTERS WATER ACTION GROUP, advocates the silver enhanced ceramic water filter. Since my introduction to the life saving filter in Nicaragua in 1999, It has been my mission to promote its manufacture and distribution.
My involvement with the silver enhanced ceramic water filter began in 1999 when I lead a student group to Nicaragua to work at humanitarian relief. Ron Rivera, International Coordinator of Potters for Peace, discovered the water filter in Guatemala where it was invented by Fernando Mazariegos. Ron made modifications and developed a mold to press the filters with a hydraulic car jack. He began mass production when he was awarded a grant to provide filters for the victims of Hurricane Mitch.
My students and I worked in the plant and learned the process. Later Ron and his good friend Manny Hernandez who designed kilns and the specialized machinery for the filter making process visited Slippery Rock University to conduct a workshop. Ron was a charismatic individual and passionate about the life saving water filter. His description of the world’s water crisis and how 5000 people, mostly children, died every day as a result of waterborne disease was a compelling call to action.
Ron and I decided that making the water filters on the wheel was feasible. The original filters developed in Guatemala were hand thrown. My next opportunity for travel was in March and with the inclusion of Manny Hernandez in our plans, we prepared to return. We flew Amman where a volunteer from A.C.T.E.D arranged for a driver to take us to Baghdad. We were welcomed at the A.C.T.E.D. compound in the early afternoon and plans were to send us to the pottery the next morning.
About the second week of our visit the center well of the kiln collapsed and needed to be reconstructed. The younger son rebuilt the hard brick well and mudded over the outside. The entire crew was engaged to add another layer of mud and straw to sections of the exterior that had become weathered.
I was never able to determine how high the kiln was fired because all of the cones I left on my first visit here were bloated and distorted. We knew it was higher than cone 08. Their method to check the temperature was to put a common brick on the top of the firebrick well and once it began to slump the firing was complete.
Richard Wukich is the International Coordinator of Potter’s Water Action Group, an association of organizations and individuals who advocate the promotion, production and distribution of the silver enhanced ceramic water filter. He and his wife Barbara maintain Plain Grove Pottery and raise Thoroughbred horses and beef cattle on their farm near Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.