James Madison University

W.A.T.E.R. Education for a Thirsty Planet!

PHOTO: Water testing team“Water is life” says Elliott Wilson, a biologist at the Songhai Center in Benin, West Africa. The lack of access to clean water in Benin is one of the leading factor contributing to the high death rates of children in Benin and throughout sub-Saharan West Africa. Since 2004, Dr. Brad Striebig has been working with engineering students, health science students, the Songhai Center and others to help families gain access to clean water in Benin.

PHOTO: Water testingWorldwide, an estimated 6,000 people, mostly children, die each and every day from water related disease. There are affordable and efficient methods to provide clean water even in the most remote parts of the world. JMU students are working together with the WATER in Benin partners to help those in need learn how to access clean water.

In August of 2009, Christen Rhodes, a sophomore in engineering, traveled with Dr. Striebig to Benin to help improve a process developed by Potters For Peace, Engineers Without Borders.  Engineering students help the Songhai Center develop ceramic water filters that can be used in the homes in Benin. Christen helped test the filters being made by the Songhai Center to ensure the filters were working as part of the WATER in Benin Program. Christen and other students also helped train the Songhia Center staff how to maintain the filters and how to improve basic health care with access to clean water.

Students stayed at the Songhai Center, a United Nations Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development. This means that during their stay, the WATER team members were able to live sustainably, by eating organic food produced at the Songhai Center, using renewable energy sources for power and reusing food and other waste products for fertilizer.

The W.A.T.E.R. program is a partnership in health, engineering, and sustainable development between James Madison University, Gonzaga University and the Songhai Center in Porto Novo, Benin. Each year the project partners work together, providing training, resources, and appropriate technology that together improve access to clean water and knowledge about the importance of clean water to human health.  Dr. Striebig is planning on returning to Benin with other engineering students and international studies students to expand their work by partnering with Central Afrika Obota (CAO). In 2010, the WATER team will work with a women’s cooperative to help them access equipment for processing their palm oil through the WATER Fund and students will develop a plan to improve sanitation and energy access in the village as part of future capstone design projects. Students will also continue to monitor and evaluate the ceramic water filters.

Visit http://web.mac.com/water_dr for more information about the WATER in Benin partnership and the study abroad program in 2010.