Northwestern group helps bring fresh water to Honduras

Members of Northwestern’s student-led movement work in a Honduran streambed.

Getting a cool drink of water, especially at this time of year, is so automatic that most of us don’t even think about it.  It never crosses our mind that the glass is clean and the water is not only clear and tasty, but pure and safe.

Not everyone is so lucky, as the members of Global Water Brigades’ (GWB) Northwestern chapter know well.

“Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of all sickness and disease worldwide, ending more lives every year than all forms of violence,” says their website.  It goes on to say that more than 90% of these deaths – 42,000 a week worldwide – are children under 5.

At Northwestern, students are doing something about it.

“Every year we fundraise money to take a trip of about 10-15 students down to Honduras,” said Ted Bakanas, co-chair of GWB’s Northwestern chapter and last year’s trip leader.

Why Honduras?

Because it is the poorest country in Central America, and lacks much of the infrastructure that more developed countries take for granted.

“Nearly one-fifth of the rural population does not have access to safe drinking water, and nearly half do not have proper sanitary facilities,” the website says.

Once down there, the group works with Global Brigades in-country staff to help rural villages without clean, running water build systems that will supply it in future.  Usually, Bakanas said, these systems are gravity-based.

Building the system itself is an intensive process that begins with an engineering orientation and a hike to view the village’s water source.  From there, students begin digging trenches, and threading and laying pipe.  Recently, the Northwestern chapter purchased its own pipe-threading machine.  Having a machine on-site to cut lengths of pipe and form the grooves that help them screw together is a huge benefit when doing the projects.

Fundraising is responsible for the pipe-threader, as it is for most of the costs associated with GWB.  Activism is also one of the group’s main pillars.

“We try and do different activism events to spread awareness of the water shortage issues in the world,” Bakanas said.  And these events aren’t limited to here in the United States.

“One of my favorite parts of the trip is the last day we do an education segment,” he said.  “GWB gives us a topic, usually dealing with water, like water and health, and we go into schools in the village and we teach the kids all about water safety and water sanitation.  It’s a fun time.”

GWB is just one offshoot of Global Brigades, an umbrella organization that encompasses medical, business, environmental, law and other branches as well as water, all non-profit. Global Brigades is in Central America, Ghana, Vietnam and India.

The Northwestern chapter is considering an expansion into Ghana in the future.

“But it’s a considerable price jump, so it’s something we’d have to talk about and plan for,” Bakanas said.

In the meantime, preparation for next year’s spring break trip is already underway.

Read more about Northwestern’s GWB here.

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