When Kathy Ku realized that millions of Ugandans don't have access to clean and safe drinking water, she decided to act. The result? Affordable ceramic water filters made with local materials.
In the summer after her freshman year at Harvard University, Ku traveled to Uganda for volunteer work. She noticed that she and her host family would frequently get sick due to unclean water. She later learned of a simple technique that would allegedly make drinking water cleaner. This technique entailed filling up a plastic bottle with water then leaving it out under the sun. When she tried to drink the water from the bottle, she found that it was too warm and tasted too much like plastic.
Ku later returned to the US to continue her studies, but her experiences in Uganda stayed with her. She thought that people in Uganda must want to have better alternatives to the solutions they currently use to obtain potable water. Thus, Spouts of Water was born.
In 2014, Ku and her friend John Kye founded the company Spouts for Water, which manufactures and distributes water filters for Ugandans. When Ku returned to the US, she drew up designs for these filters and decided on a key component. She decided that she wasn't going to bring filters to Uganda—she was going to manufacture them there.
Ku used her experience making water filters for Engineers Without Borders to determine which filter would work best for Uganda. The filter, called Purifaaya, is quite simple. Ku mixed ground clay and sawdust to create the ceramic material. As the sawdust burns away in the firing process, the finished product becomes porous. These pores let water through and traps harmful bacteria that can cause illnesses. The pores also have silver nitrate, a biocide that purifies the water.
To put the water filter to use, you'd have to place it in a larger jug of water. Keep the whole thing covered to prevent contamination. Spouts claims that Purifaaya can eliminate up to 99.9% of bacteria in the water. Since Ugandans are used to storing water in clay pots, the clay filters easily fit into the socio-cultural milieu.
Spouts's first factory in Uganda had been a remodeled chicken farm with a bad flea infestation. It was there that Ku and her colleagues stayed, working hard on their product. At first, they were only able to produce a handful of water filters a day. Eventually, they moved to a new factory they designed themselves. They can now produce 10,000 filters a month, and they employ about 30 locals.
Purifaaya costs $20 and can last for two years. Spouts claims that Purifaaya is the most affordable water filter of its kind in Uganda. The company also supplies water filters to schools and refugee camps, not just households.
These water filters are proof that technology doesn't have to be complex or expensive in order to be highly useful. Innovation and the drive to make a difference can be enough to push people into creating something that can change lives.
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