Thursday, October 31, 2013

Afterthought #21 - One Hundred Posts

I don’t follow the stats for this blog, even though collects all kinds of them.  Like how many pageviews each day, the number of comments posted, and the number of people who follow my blog.  Those numbers don’t mean anything to me, but one recently got my attention—the number of posts since I began the blog on May 9, 2010.  I’m creeping up on 100 posts (I think this one will be 99).

It took some convincing for me to begin to blog (I've Been Convinced to Blog), so reaching 100 entries is noteworthy.  My original plan to post once a week lasted, well, three weeks.  Just took three times for me to realize a weekly, 500ish-word essay didn’t work for me, so I revised my goal to post twice a month. I did pretty well with that through the rest of 2010 and 2011.  By then, I was on a roll (most of the time), and added a third posting the last day of each month (like today) that I call an Afterthought, after a Quaker practice of sharing a brief reflection after silent worship.  That brought me up to 3 posts per month, which I’ve maintained pretty consistently since Jan. 2012.

So that’s how I got to 100 pieces of new writing, and I’m celebrating.  Celebrating some meaningful interactions with readers on the blog, through e-mail, or in person; new connections with other writers; and a body of work that, until I started blogging, I never would have believed I could have created.

Here’s to the next 100.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Reducing Gun Violence

I sat in the Head Start classroom reviewing policies and procedures and came across the program’s guidelines about what to do in the case of a drive-by-shooting. I gulped as I read the instructions to teachers to grab the orange whistle hanging by the door and to blow it to signal to the children to huddle together in the middle of the room, away from windows and doors.

I had come to this program in Los Angeles having left Stehekin, my tiny community in Washington’s North Cascades, to be part of the team conducting a review of how well the program met Federal Head Start standards.  I knew I was in unfamiliar territory the minute I got in the rental car and weaved in and out of traffic on the multi-lane freeway; in Stehekin, the maximum speed on the valley’s single paved road was 25 mph.  But learning that teachers here had developed the drive-by shooting procedures after shots had been fired in the neighborhood, I felt I had traveled to another planet.

That was nearly twenty years ago, four years before names like Columbine and later, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, began to call up images of terrified students and teachers threatened by people wielding guns in their classrooms, hallways, and on their campuses.  Now, on the rural island where I work as a school nurse, a red sheet of lock-down procedures is posted on my office wall, and the administration periodically conducts drills to prepare students and staff for the possibility of an armed intruder.

I think of those places every time I hear about another school shooting, like the one just this week at Sparks Middle School in Reno. Those memories and images also came to mind last month when Steven Aldrich, a lobbyist for Friends Committee on Washington Public Policy (FCWPP), gave his report at our annual fall Quaker gathering (see 4-30-13 post about Quarterly Meeting gatherings).  Steve started his report this way:

“If I were a convicted felon, here in Washington I could buy a gun online or at a gun show without having my background checked.” 

He reassured us that he isn’t a convicted felon, nor does he own a gun, but he made his point about a flaw in our state’s firearms sales regulations.  Steve held up a stack of petitions for signatures supporting Initiative-594, a measure to change the law.  I took a handful.

WA Alliance for
Gun Responsibility
Support for the initiative is being organized by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. As of this week, the alliance needed just 10,000 more signatures to reach the 325,000 required to get the initiative before the State legislature.  If that happens and the legislature passes the initiative, it becomes law.  If they don’t, it will go on the ballot for the November 2014 election.

Here’s what I-594 addresses (full text is at  Initiative Measure 594).  Current law requires criminal and public safety background checks before purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer; the initiative would change the law to extend this requirement for checks to most firearm purchases and transfers in Washington, including gun show and online sales. According to the Alliance, an estimated 40% of gun transfers in the U.S. take place without going through a licensed dealer. In 2012, 6.6 million guns were sold with no background check for the buyer.
I-594 supporters with petitions

I’m putting my signed petition in the mail today, and I hope that readers in Washington who haven’t yet signed will go to the website to find out how to add their names to the list. Even if this initiative passes, I know it won’t put an end to all gun violence.  But perhaps it will decrease the chance that those drive-by-shooting and lockdown procedures in schools and Head Start programs will ever be needed.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Friendly Water

This morning when I filled my electric teakettle with tap water, I didn’t think of that liquid as anything but friendly.  I know, though, that in many places, what pours from faucets, sits in reservoirs, or pools in streams is full of harmful organisms; for 900 million people around the world, the water they drink, cook, and wash with is unfriendly.  A few Quakers from Olympia, WA, are trying to change that through an organization called Friendly Water for the World.

The nonprofit’s mission is straightforward: to expand access to low-cost clean water technologies and information about health and sanitation to people in need of them. The organization grew out of collaboration between theologically diverse Quaker congregations in two Washington communities—Olympic View Friends Church in Tacoma and Olympia Friends Meeting, Olympia. Although Friendly Water for the World is committed to Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, it is non-denominational and welcomes individuals from other faiths and traditions. Its approach involves partnerships among individuals and communities, working and learning together.

And work and learn they do, in Kenya, Burundi, India, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Uganda, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Honduras, and Haiti.  The learning begins in North America, with week-long workshops teaching volunteers how to build and teach others construction techniques for BioSand Water Filters.  This simple, affordable technology uses local sand and gravel in a small container suitable for people’s homes. For about $50, a household can have a system that lasts 30 years.

Courtesy - Center for
Affordable Water and
Sanitation Technology
Here’s how it works. Contaminated water (from any source, including rivers, wells, and rainwater) is poured into the top of the biosand filter at least once daily. Water slowly drips through a diffuser and flows down through the sand and gravel. Treated water flows by gravity out of the outlet tube. Disease-causing organisms (95-99% of them) are removed through biological and physical processes that take place in the sand, resulting in 12-18 liters of filtered drinking water per hour.  To add to the filter’s effectiveness, Friendly Water also works with local leaders to promote personal and community sanitation practices to assure filtered water isn’t contaminated before use.

As I pour water over my freshly ground coffee, I’m aware of how privileged I am to do so with such ease. I’m grateful to all the folks helping to make this a more friendly process in many places around the world.