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Group effort means clean water for countries in need

Thurston Middle School students in Spanish teacher Jeff Dippel's class donated $250 to pay for four water filters that Dippel delivered to a Colombian city this summer.

Dippel, who completed his first year at the school in June, had been leading seventh- and eighth-grade students through a unit on water quality in Nicaragua and the struggles people face in obtaining clean water. That is when the kids decided they wanted to help.

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The teacher, who was planning to vacation in Colombia, was more than willing to deliver filters to Cartagena, a port city on the Caribbean coast, and so a class project was born.

"[Parts] of South America don't have access to clean water so bringing filters into a community gives the people a chance at avoiding life-threatening diseases," Dippel said.

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Dippel and the students worked with Santa Monica-based Waves For Water, a nonprofit that provides filters to 27 countries.

The organization partners with local groups whose members are familiar with a particular country and can guide volunteers.

One such collaboration was sparked in 2013, when Waves For Water's executive director, Christian Troy, spoke at an international investment conference and met members of the Young Investors Organization, which was helping to organize water filter deliveries.

Filters range from a ceramic variety that can be transported by one person to larger filters that can provide clean water to an entire village for years.

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The kinds of filters Dippel delivered cost $50 and came with tubes and pumps. Upon receipt of the packages, the Colombians assembled the filters by drilling holes into buckets or similar plastic containers and attaching the specific parts.

"I would like to get all of our students involved in bringing down filters whenever they could to Latin America," Dippel wrote in an email. "So many of our students travel down there to surf, that I think they could really make a big difference in a lot of people's lives. I really want to show the kids how easy it was to help some of these people and that it really doesn't cost any money."

And he wants his own participation in these projects to continue, he said.

Troy notes that helping people in other countries involves much more than delivering equipment. Developing relationships is crucial to Waves For Water's mission, he said.

"It's hard to travel as Americans with solutions," said Troy, who has been to Colombia four times in the last two years. "There are smart ways to identify [needy] populations, have them trust you and put whatever you give to the highest and best use. We spend just as much time building relationships, and the rest of the stuff happens that much faster."

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