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Students help WaterStep’s mission during ISLP Philippines trip

by Judy Hughes, communications and marketing last modified Dec 17, 2013 12:50 PM

Helping a community partner in its typhoon rescue work, 34 University of Louisville students hauled health-preserving cargo along on their International Service Learning Program trip to Cebu City, Philippines, this month.

Students help WaterStep’s mission during ISLP Philippines trip

UofL students prepare to leave for their ISLP trip to Cebu, Philippines.

Each toted one or two extra suitcases containing three kits for water purifiers that Louisville-based nonprofit WaterStep needed overseas for its safe-water relief work in the country still reeling from Typhoon Haiyan’s November assault.

“What you guys are doing is phenomenal,” organization founder Mark Hogg told the students before departure. “We’re so thankful to you all.” Hogg and Field Operations Director Kurtis Daniels went to the Philippines a few days later to train people from nongovernmental organizations to install the units to convert polluted, disease-causing sources into long-term sustainable water. More than 140 people from at least 45 groups were trained during their eight-day stay. The purifiers can generate 10,000 gallons a day.

Although most of the 60 chlorination units were destined for damaged parts of the island nation, another one was put in Cebu’s Paril School, where UofL alumnus Elliott Bauer returned this year.  Bauer, a 2013 civil engineering master’s graduate, participated in last year’s ISLP trip to Cebu and was so moved about the school’s unusable water pump that he raised money to take a WaterStep unit to install this time around and worked with Tom Jackson, UofL vice president for student affairs, to integrate that project into what the group would be teaching this year at the school.

Bauer said he trained 150 people to use the unit as a way to make the school-based water purifier a broader resource and also helped finance a project to house and secure the unit at the school once it is installed permanently. “By the end of the week, it was such a community project that I feel extremely confident in the long-term success,” he said; the expected outcome is that people there will have free, safely purified water and won’t need to buy bottled water.

The ISLP students in engineering, communication, education and dentistry spent the Dec. 6-16 trip working in multidisciplinary teams with middle and high school students and operating a dental service and education clinic. Through their coursework in Louisville, students cross-trained each other and developed the lessons or programs they presented overseas.

“The world’s challenges are not solved by one discipline,” said Jackson, who headed the trip as well as the leadership component of the teaching.

“It was one of the better trips with our students,” Jackson said at the airport upon their return. “They were extremely well-prepared and did well with the students in-country. It was heartwarming to watch how they energized one another.”

Under the direction of professors Joy Hart and Kandi Walker, communication students taught about making positive choices and advertising messages that promote “being a hero”; Speed students taught engineering concepts through hands-on projects such as building simple boats, rockets and water filters, civil and environmental engineering professor Mark French said. Laura Mercer handled logistics for the group, and dentistry professor Bill Sanders led the clinic effort.

Lindsey Elmore, a third-year dentistry student from Glasgow, said the six dental students worked on multiple extractions and also taught children about brushing and hygiene. “It was an awesome experience,” she said.

“There are lots of reasons to do it….They really learn more than they teach,” Hart said.

“By the end of their ISLP classes and international service, they have accomplished a lot,” Hart said. “You took an idea and developed a whole program, went to the site, delivered a program and evaluated it.”

“It’s more of a cultural eye-opener – being a global citizen in practice, not just in theory,” Walker said.

As French advised the group before leaving: “Absorb everything that comes your way.”

Michael Handley, a bioethics student who took the communication course, called the trip “probably one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had. You give all you have and end up getting so much more.”

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