Throughout fall 2014, the Asia Pacific Peace Studies Institute (APPSI) and the Associated Students of HNU (ASHNU) organized a fundraiser to accompany the University’s Water Justice campaign, in cooperation with the nonprofit WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water. Chiho Sawada, PhD, associate professor of history and executive director of APPSI, and MariaFernanda Cuevas ’15, who was then an HNU senior and religious studies and philosophy major, led the effort to raise funds for WaterBridge Outreach to expand its water-improvement projects in Asia and Africa.
Cuevas had the idea to sell reusable HNU-branded water bottles to students, faculty, and staff as a way of driving the fundraising campaign. As an added benefit, the environmentally friendly bottles could be used with HNU’s newly installed hydration stations throughout campus to reduce the number of disposable plastic bottles used at HNU.
APPSI, students in ASHNU, and students in the Intercultural Peace and Justice Studies (IPJS) classes set the initial goal for the campaign at $1,000. With help from Campus Ministry, the Peace and Justice Club, the Student Success Center, the Integrative Studies Across Cultures program, and from HNU Athletics, the campaign raised over $2,000 to donate to WaterBridge Outreach.
As WaterBridge recently reported on their site, the funds raised at HNU have been used to install reverse osmosis water purification systems at four schools in rural areas of Tamil Nadu, in southeast India. The four schools, which are located in the villages of Mullipakkam, Salavankuppam, Ellandoppu, and Arungkundram, previously only had access to untreated well water, which was often contaminated by the pesticides and fertilizers used in nearby fields.
The reverse osmosis systems push water through filters that remove salt and other toxins, rendering the water safe to drink. The systems are capable of producing 50 liters of clean drinking water per day when running on maximum power; however, due to inconsistent electric utilities, the systems run at a somewhat lower rate, but still produce approximately 40 liters per day. According to Curt Degler, president of South Asian Village Empowerment International, an organization with which WaterBridge partners, "The [reverse osmosis] systems are run when the schools open in the morning and the output is transferred to 25 liter plastic bubble-top barrels, which are [emptied] into cisterns with a small tap, and with this they [the students] fill up their own personal water bottles."
Thanks to the partnership between WaterBridge and dedicated HNU students, faculty, and staff, the students at these four schools in Tamil Nadu now have access to fresh drinking water during the hot school days.
Upon hearing the news about the reverse osmosis systems, Cuevas was overjoyed. "I think the outcome has been amazing! I am so happy to have taken part of this collaboration," she said. "As an educator now, it is great to know that we can help people across the world, especially through schools! I hope that in the years to come HNU can further develop global engagement initiatives, and make it possible for our students to volunteer overseas. I know that I would love to visit the communities where our projects with WaterBridge Outreach have already been launched."
Momodou Ndow ’16, a liberal studies major with an IPJS concentration, was very involved in the fundraising project and sold many water bottles during the drive. "The importance of clean drinking water cannot be emphasized enough, and it is gratifying to see the smiles on the children’s faces," she said. "It was my pleasure to be involved in this project. A tremendous success indeed! Going forward, I am very interested in volunteering in Africa and Asia with WaterBridge Outreach or its local partners."
Reflecting on the origins of the project, Sawada said, "Students in my Intercultural Peace and Justice Studies courses have always impressed me by their enthusiastic service to a variety of local community organizations. At the same time, I was a bit troubled to learn that this spirit of service often did not extend to the global level; many students expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of international development assistance in general and their own ability to make meaningful contributions to faraway communities in particular.
"So I turned to students in ASHNU and IPJS to work with me to design an experiential education project that would bridge this gap between the local and global, and help them become more empowered as global change agents.
"The result was our collaboration with WaterBridge Outreach. I am delighted by the results: first and foremost the clean water for schools in Tamil Nadu, and also the invaluable experience for my students here at Holy Names University in Oakland."