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Sedona Arts Center Ceramics Department Head, Dennis Ott (red shirt) unloading bricks for use in constructing the wood-fired kilnThe Sedona Arts Center Ceramics Department’s outreach program traveled to Nicaragua with Dr. Julie Williams to join her nonprofit Humanitarian Efforts Reaching Out (HERO) for an 8-day humanitarian mission last month. SAC Department head Dennis Ott and ceramics student Lew Reilly worked with representatives from Potters for Peace, a nonprofit worldwide humanitarian organization, to build a kiln that will enable locals to create clay water filters for purifying drinking water and vessels for irrigation.

On January 28, the group of 14 volunteers (four of them SAC members) arrived at Managua, Nicaragua, and traveled three hours by dirt road to Chinandega. There the group was hosted by Monty’s Surf Camp where they stayed for 8 days. Dennis and Lew worked with staff from Potters for Peace on the construction of a wood-fired kiln.

“It was heavy, dirty, satisfying work,” said Ott. “The experience of a lifetime.”

Potters for Peace helps communities set up workshops so that locals can produce the clay vessels themselves. The water filters that will be fired in the new kiln will remove pathogens and other contaminants found in local water sources. The vessels used in irrigation are designed to be buried near plantings, then filled with water that leaches slowly through the porous walls into the soil. They are refilled as needed.

The remaining twelve volunteers, including SAC members Jack Wooldrik and Julie Williams, worked on building a brick dwelling for a deserving local family and also cataloging and storing a large quantity of medication to be used for a HERO medical mission in March. HERO was founded in Sedona by Dr. Williams and a small group of people who wanted to offer assistance to those in need. It began as a grassroots medical team that traveled to the remote mountains of Honduras and expanded to a diverse group of volunteers, giving them the ability to serve more people in many more ways.

Working hard for 8 days, they were able to complete the kiln and build 75 percent of the house. One hot afternoon they went by boat to a nearby island to help release 500 endangered black sea turtles that had just hatched at a sea turtle conservatory.

Dennis Ott described his experience in Nicaragua as “unforgettable” and was appreciative of the things we take for granted here in the United States. Living without hot water at the touch of a tap, air conditioning regulated by thermostats, proper sanitation, a wide variety of foods and so many other things, opened his eyes to how a large part of the world lives on a daily basis.

“I have never worked with such a dedicated group of selfless people. They never complained during their entire stay, yet worked very hard to complete their mission.” A bit choked up, Dennis said, “I was just happy to do something to help change the lives of these people who live by a very different standard … to help them on the path to better education, irrigation, clean water and more.”

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