In my time as a teaching assistant and graduate student, I've found that there is no lack of students that want to change the world. And while their visions are inspiring, I've also found that many of them don't quite know how to translate their world-sized aspirations down to the practicalities of the tangible. I'd like to suggest that the way to change the world is by committing to one -- one place, one person, one idea.
As an engineer and scientist, I admit that this is just a personal hypothesis that I'm currently testing by joining a team of students in Engineers Without Borders at Georgia Tech to undertake an engineering program in the rural community of Brae Head in Clarendon Parish, Jamaica. This program involves a partnership with the community, through our contact Dorothy Grant (founder of the Brae Head Foundation), and a 5 year commitment to the community. We as engineers commit to working with the community to design, fund, and build sustainable infrastructure that will improve the community's well-being. The community commits to contributing to the capital costs of the improvements, and constructing the infrastructure per the design. It's a long journey, but we go together. We recently began this journey by making our first trip to Brae Head. What we found makes me hopeful that our partnership will be a fruitful one.
Dorothy Grant, far left, and I, far right, chatting with a member of the Brae Head community. Photo by Venk.
The first thing that we experienced is the community's warm welcome and hospitality toward our team. We wanted for nothing. We were provided with a wonderful home in which to stay. And far beyond a home, we had the ever-smiling Evan as our host. Evan cooked three wonderful meals per day for us. He taught us about all things Jamaican. And even better he laughed and played cards with us nightly. Evan cared for us deeply. His care was apparent when he dressed us down for a trip into the city, which many rural dwellers regard as dangerous. He made us change out our flip flops and leave behind valuables that might make us prone to robbery. Evan's warm care was just one part of the hospitality we experienced in the community -- invitations into homes, Jamaican soft drinks without end, gifts of bananas and yams. If there were ever a community to partner with, it is Brae Head.
Evan, left, and Jean Anne, right, chewing on cocoa seeds. Photo by Elianna.
The second reason for my hope is the community's knowledge of and ownership of their own well-being. We left the U.S. with the understanding that the community's primary concern was the improvement of their drinking water supply, and, when we arrived, we found a community that was deeply knowledgeable and proactive about their water supply. We met a man by the name of Mr. Ricketts who because of his work as a plumber became the keeper of the water supply. He showed us the springs, tanks, and pipelines that have been stitched together to form a workable drinking water supply. We spent hours hacking through the jungle inspecting each and every part of the system. We took almost 50 samples measuring E. coli, turbidity, pH, and chlorine. We surveyed almost 25 households concerning their access to water, sanitation, and their health. At this end of all this we agreed with the community. They could greatly benefit from some improvements to their water supply.
The water line is in there somewhere. Brae Head, Jamaica. Photo by Venk.
Membrane filtration to test for E. coli. Brae Head, Jamaica. Photo by Venk.
Mr. Ricketts, keeper of the Brae Head water system. Photo by Venk.
As our team left Brae Head, I couldn't help but feel optimistic. The ingredients for a successful project are certainly in place -- an engaged community and a committed partnership. We've committed to one place and one community out of the thousands that could use our help. Time will tell if our partnership with Brae Head is the kind that changes the world by changing the lives of individuals. Where is the community that needs your commitment?