Fresh water saves lives, inspires students
Here there are no roads. Well-worn paths crisscross up mountains. But locals maneuver the mountains like pros. Children take the rocky trail — some in flip-flops, others barefoot — carefully carrying two five-gallon buckets of water to their homes, often as far as 10 miles away.
Across Haiti, in small villages like Morne Michel, the water doesn’t flow freely. It’s often contaminated, and clean water is hard to find. Members of Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries, or CEDC, are working with the Adopt-A-Village program in order to change this.
“Water is the basis of all life. If you have to worry about water, you can’t worry about other important things, such as commerce,” said Robert Wood, a civil engineering graduate student. “We want to help villagers take ownership of their future.”
Adopt-A-Village pairs villages in Cange with churches and nongovernmental organizations that sponsor a village. These organizations have adopted villages and created strong relationships with the locals there, but don’t know how to use their funding most effectively.
These sponsors turned to CEDC for help, and the group quickly agreed. They would start by assessing the water supplies in individual villages and then determine the best way to improve each village’s facilities. In order to create a sustainable water supply, the group would also educate locals on the importance of clean water and include them in the process of rebuilding their water supplies. CEDC has adopted a philosophy for dealing with water issues: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Ultimately, the group hopes to spread this idea across Haiti.
Knowing that their help was vital, CEDC scrambled to put together a team as soon as possible. And last August, a group of students traveled to Cange to visit four local villages.
The students tested local water supplies for pH levels, turbidity (or, the clarity of the water), chlorine demand (how much chlorine is needed to treat the water) and fecal coliforms. Contamination of a village’s water source by fecal coliforms can result in widespread cholera outbreaks, one of the leading causes of death in the area. Cholera can be treated, but it requires large amounts of rehydration solutions and IVs. These materials are expensive, and most of the villages, and even larger cities in Haiti, don’t have the adequate resources needed for treatment.
“We asked the locals, ‘How can we help?’” said Wood, and then CEDC did more than just help. They acted.
After the initial trip in August, the team returned to Clemson full of ideas on how they could improve each village’s quality of life. Then the group of engineers did what they do best. They designed.
Members of the team enrolled in a Creative Inquiry class devoted to the program. The team recruited students across the disciplines to join the class. English students began to use social media sites to further spread CEDC’s message across the Internet. Training sessions were held where students learned how to perform water quality tests and land surveys. Equipment was gathered, and lists were made. By October, the group was ready to return to the villages.
A warm and gracious reception awaited CEDC. “At each village, the villagers graciously shared coconut milk and sugar cane with us,” said Nathan Schneider, a senior civil engineering major.
Hiking across the terrain, the students took change and improvements from village to village. And while the students were able to teach locals about water, they, too, received their own lessons in Haiti.
“Most places you travel to, there’s an invisible barrier that remains intact — most of the people you interact with are other tourists or locals in the tourist industry. Haiti, it’s not like that,” said senior English major Katie Wunder. “Cange is a home.”
Using concrete and simple designs, students learned about the basics behind engineering. Collaboration taught them about soft engineering skills such as leadership and communication. And maybe most importantly, they learned about people and a lifestyle outside their own comfort zones.
“It makes me want to travel and work on these things,” said Jens Lund, senior civil engineering major. “Instead of building roads, I want to save lives. I would dare anyone to go down there and not get inspired.”
If you’d like to get involved with CEDC and the Adopt-A-Village program, contact email@example.com. All majors are invited and encouraged to join the organization.