Sarah Jordan is surrounded by children in Buhijaa, Ghana.
Clemson student helps bring clean water to village
2012 Mar 8By Aliza Darnell CLEMSON aEUR" Clemson University sophomore Sarah Jordan traveled to Ghana during her winter break to help bring a sustainable water treatment business to a village that didn't have access to clean water. Jordan, a health science major from St. Francisville, La., participated in the three-week fellowship program offered by Community Water Solutions in the northern region of Ghana. She learned of the nonprofit through an email from Clemson's public health sciences department and decided to attend an informational session when the organization's representatives visited Clemson in the fall. After submitting an online application and a phone interview, Jordan was accepted to the program as a Winter 2011 Fellow in early November. She raised $2,500 to cover the expense of the equipment she would use to establish the water purification business. To raise the money she sent letters to friends and family. The mission of Community Water Solutions is to address the critical need for clean water and prevent diarrheal disease by implementing sustainable water treatment businesses in communities in developing countries. The organization says 1.8 million people die each year from diarrheal disease, a number that can be reduced by establishing effective water-purification methods in rural villages of Africa that don't have access to clean water. Jordan wanted to be part of the work the organization is doing. "It is about providing such a basic necessity of life that so many people don't have and that we use every day without even thinking about it," Jordan said. Another aspect of Community Water Solutions that appealed to Jordan was the sustainability of the water businesses. The water treatment centers are designed in a for-profit model selling clean drinking water at the community level for an affordable price. The money stays in the communities, ensuring continued water treatment and providing an income for women from the community who are taught to run the businesses after they're established. Thirty other students, many from other ACC schools, participated in the fellowship program with Jordan. The students were divided into teams of three to four and assigned to different villages. Each team was equipped with a translator and charged with the task of building a water purification center. Jordan's team of three was assigned to Buhijaa. Buhijaa is a rural village in northern Ghana with a population of about 800 people, most of whom are subsistence farmers. When the students arrived, it was evident that the people of the village had never seen people like Jordan and her teammates before. Children ran way and adults exercised caution when they were near, but it didn't take long for the people to warm up to them, Jordan said. "Within two to three days things turned around. The kids would play with us and they adults would wave, excited to see us. They finally trusted us and knew we were there to help," said Jordan. Improving the state of their water, however, took a little more work. The village water source is a shallow, manmade pond called a "dug out" that fills with water during the rainy season. Jordan described it as a dirty pond filled with insects and bacteria where the livestock also drink. This water source tested positive for E. coli, a public health risk for the community. People of the village also have suffered from guinea worm, a painful parasite infection that also affects other areas of Ghana. Because this was the only water source, it is where the villagers got their drinking water. "All they had was plastic water bottles and they just filled them with brown water from the pond, but it was so normal to them. They didn't think anything of it," said Jordan. "The experience was a huge reality check. We are so comfortable in American lifestyle we think that's the norm for everyone. That's their norm and they never complain or expect pity. It's just what they do." Jordan and her teammates were focused on developing a safe and sustainable water source to prevent the avoidable health risks from plaguing the community. They established relationships with the village leaders, learned about water testing and treatment methods, built the water treatment center, distributed water storage buckets to each family and made sure they knew how to use storage buckets correctly. When their hard work was finished, the water center opened Jan. 11. Two women of the village were taught how to collect, treat and sell the water and took over the business. Full-time Community Water Solutions employees now check in with each village on a weekly basis to make sure there are no broken parts or shortages. The part of the trip that had a lasting impression on Jordan was how something that is considered a basic human need is not available to people in places like the villages in northern Ghana. "It was completely unexpected to see pure excitement over water. Just water," said Jordan. Jordan is not the only Clemson Tiger making a difference in the global water crisis. Samantha Derrick, a 2009 Clemson graduate with a degree in health science, is the director of U.S. Operation and Development for Community Water Solutions. She also was Fellow with the organization for five months from October 2010 to January 2011. Inspired by the program, Derrick became a full-time employee in April 2011 and continues to expand on its work. She was in Ghana with Jordan during the Winter 2011 Fellowship. "She's second in command," Jordan said. "She was there every day. They would see us off in the morning or welcome us back." The fellowship has changed Jordan. She is interested in going back to Africa to work on more programs like this one, or even return to complete a second water treatment center. "It's made me more interested in public health and bigger health movements, what can be done for the masses," she said. For other students like Jordan who want to make a difference, Jordan shares some advice: "Find an organization that brings a lot of one people together. There were only 30 of us and we brought water to over 40,000 people in three weeks. Find someone who has the means to help you," said Jordan.