Local peace prize inspires global action

From the Editorial Board

Pennye Nixon, founder and director of Etta Projects, is the winner of the 2017 Greater Tacoma Peace Prize.
Pennye Nixon, founder and director of Etta Projects, is the winner of the 2017 Greater Tacoma Peace Prize.

The Greater Tacoma Peace Prize is a vivid reminder that not all heroes are associated with war. Since 2005, the prize has honored ordinary citizens working for positive change with heroic actions in local neighborhoods and around the globe.

The prize is far from an empty symbolic gesture. It honors what’s possible when individuals decide they can make a difference in the name of peace. This year’s recipient, Pennye Nixon, is a prime example.

Much like last year’s recipient, Theresa Pan Hosely, who led efforts for Chinese reconciliation in Tacoma, Nixon is looking to heal communities.

When most people think of peace, they imagine people or nations getting together, finding compromise and coming to an agreement. But when Nixon thinks of peace, she thinks of clean water and sanitation.

“I like to talk about poop,” she confessed.

Since she founded Etta Projects in 2003, more than 21 rural villages in Bolivia have clean water systems and more important, the people who live there have been trained to manage them.

Nixon’s laudable work lies in her ability to elicit collaboration from communities and local governments. The effort is very grassroots. Villagers dig their own trenches for the water distribution systems and put in 15 percent of the cost.

Etta Projects, based out of an office at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, is rooted in the philosophy of helping people help themselves. It’s the legacy of a 16-year-old girl who just happens to be Nixon’s daughter, Etta Turner.

In 2002, Etta, was living in Bolivia as a Rotary Exchange student when a tragic bus accident took her life. Etta’s brief presence in the poorest country in South America made such an impact that after her death, the local government designated a dining hall be built in Etta’s honor.

Nixon attended the dedication ceremony and decided to continue what her daughter began. Few people could look past such immense grief and look for ways to help, but Nixon did.

Statistics pointed her to Bolivia’s lack of clean water and sanitation. Sixty-three percent of Bolivians living in rural areas do not have access to to those basic hygiene items that Americans take for granted.

“People use pit latrines; they dig holes in the earth,” says Nixon, a Port Orchard resident. “And during rainy season those latrines overfill and that’s how disease spreads. The situation is dire.”

Because of Etta Projects, more than 100 community leaders (90 percent of them women) are skilled in promoting health across communities in Bolivia. Health care workers tend wounds, provide prenatal care and work with local clinics. The training empowers women who’ve never before had a valued role in the village.

The Greater Tacoma Peace Prize will honor Nixon with a banquet, a unique piece of glass created by Tacoma’s Hilltop Artists and two tickets to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

Ours is the only city in the United States with a peace laureate recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Institute. The program is sponsored locally by the Sons and Daughters of Norway, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and Pacific Lutheran University.

The prize is proof positive that politicians, diplomats and celebrities aren’t the only proponents of peace.