Geographic Science

JMU students work to provide access to clean water in Uganda

Volunteers working to provide clean water in Uganda

SUMMARY: Amelia Morrison, JMU senior geographic science major, is working with a non-profit organization, Hands4Others (H4O) to provide clean water to residents in Entebbe, Uganda. (Photo courtesy of H4O)

By: Thomas Robertson | The Breeze

Located in Central Uganda on a peninsula in Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria, is a city with a population of about 70,000. This city, called Entebbe, is made up of many different rural communities and fishing islands, and has little industry. Even though the city is directly connected to a massive water source, means of filtering that water are scarce and clean water is hard to come by for many of Entebbe’s residents. 

The water crisis isn’t going unnoticed, however. Hands 4 Others is working to fight it. H4O is a nonprofit organization that empowers and enables students around the world to address critical issues. One student involved with their Global Internship Program is Amelia Morrison, a senior geographic science major at JMU. Morrison works with H4O’s clean water program, which has provided over 220,000 people in 15 different countries, including Uganda, with clean water by building wells and implementing filtration systems.

“With something like drinking water, it’s just something that we can all support,” Morrison said. “The more that we can get people aware … of the other issues in society that stem from lacking that drinking water, the more that we can cultivate the service atmosphere that JMU kind of thinks of itself as having.”

Drinking unfiltered water can cause typhoid fever, cholera and other water-borne illnesses. Residents in countries like Uganda may have to travel great distances to get water that can still bring them diseases. Since those diseases require them to spend their income on medicine, the resulting lack of resources can lead to crime, starvation and an inability to send their kids to school.

“We’re decreasing the death rates in the areas, but what we’re also doing is creating an environment and a culture where people are able to pursue their dreams and thrive,” Zak Shellabarger, program director at H4O, said. 

Shellabarger saw this process firsthand while on a trip to Entebbe. He was installing a water system and noticed how many of the problems their town faced weren’t a result of bad people, but poor circumstances. 

“Uganda’s such a place that’s so rich in culture and love and there’s so many people that are just so giving of themselves and so hospitable,” Shellabarger said. “Crime is not large there because the people are bad — crime is large there because they have no other means to provide for themselves … and so when we go in and when we install a water system, slowly over time what starts to happen is that the community starts to find new and better ways to provide for themselves.”

 Sixty-one percent of Ugandans lack access to safe water, and even more don’t have access to improved sanitation. That’s why Morrison is coordinating her own fundraiser for a clean water system in Entebbe.

“Nothing philanthropic happens without a strong community around it,” Morrison said. “So it’s really a powerful thing to create partnerships with people who care, even if they’re not focused on the same issue as you.”

Uganda is just one of many places struggling during the clean water crisis. Around the world, more than 840 million people don’t have safe drinking water. With such a far-reaching issue, Morrison said she’s had no problem finding people willing to help out with her efforts to aid Entebbe.

“A lot of people want to be involved with an issue like this just because it’s humanitarian,” Morrison said. “College campuses are a really good place to cultivate that energy because everyone does care, and has a little bit of time, not so much money, but time to devote to that.”

The Environmental Management Club is one student organization that’s decided to get involved with the cause. Laura Grajales, a senior kinesiology major and social chair of the club, said its members were eager to get involved. 

“We definitely feel like it’s something that we take for granted here in the United States,” Grajales said. “It’s something that’s so vital to daily living that it feels like such a huge cause for us to be able to help out.”

Morrison has gotten more of the JMU community involved besides student organizations — from booking local music acts like Ryan Cam, Gryzzle and Venus Milo to perform at fundraising events, to having Mad4U help organize an upcoming concert.

“I definitely feel like JMU is a place where everyone’s kind of trying to do something to make the world a better place,” Grajales said. 

Uniting with others to make a difference is something Morrison stressed. She said she’s glad she’s in the position to bring people together to help out.         

“Using your privilege, that’s what I envision,” Morrison said. “Band together with whoever you can connect with, whatever organizations that you can connect with and individuals and try to do something good. And the feeling that comes when you achieve that is really, really a good feeling. It feels really good to help people.”  

Read more articles like this one at JMU's student newspaper, The Breeze

Published: Monday, January 22, 2018

Last Updated: Monday, January 22, 2018

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