Two weeks that mattered by Ivy Santos '14

Zimba.jpgLess than 1% of the world's water is drinkable, and in India, most of that has been contaminated.  The groundwater is saturated with fluorine, iron, arsenic, and human waste.  The rivers, even the sacred ones, are used as trash heaps, plastic bottles and dead family members floating side by side.  Countless people die every year from diarrhea, cholera, and other forms of water poisoning.  The statistics are horrid, but also vastly inaccurate because deaths in rural areas and in the multitude of slums (accounting for up to 40% of city populations) frequently go unrecorded.  The best way to know how sick the people of a village are, is to keep track of school attendance records.  The more children in school, the less there are at home dying.

This is the situation that I was completely unaware of at the beginning of 2012.  The three-college winter session sustainability program changed that.  Four Wellesly students, two Babson students, three other Olin students, and I have come together for two weeks this winter break to try and help those helping India.  Laura Stupin, Olin Class of 2007 works with the NGO Zimba to help make India's water safe.  Zimba supplies a doser - a machine that automatically dispenses chlorine solution into running water, to other NGOs that are installing shallow well pumps in rural villages where the topsoil is full of arsenic.  The well avoids the arsenic, and the chlorine kills bacteria living in the water because of sanitation issues.  By avoiding these two contaminants, mortality rates drop considerably.  

intersession_2012.jpgOne of the coordinators of this program, Juliana Nazare (Olin '14) contacted Laura, who has helped many Oliners find jobs in sustainability and the third world, and offered the assistance of 10 students for two weeks.  Laura gladly accepted, and we found ourselves knee deep in data, research, and ideation.  For the first week, we split into groups and researched other NGOs, learned about the peoples and cultures of India, and brainstormed ways for Zimba to branch out to increase their revenue.  Having become acclimated to the project, we spent our second week putting together some resources for Zimba.  We created a few user surveys to collect data in the field, created profiles of NGOs that had been successful in the past, drew up a method of qualitatively analyzing the success of an NGO or product, and put together a book of references and log of everyone we had interviewed to learn about the water situation in India.

The best part of this project is that the research we are doing now, the ideas we come up with every day, are being shared with Laura through Google Docs.  Twelve hours after we think of something, it is being talked about, and potentially implemented in India, where Laura and the Zimba team are working right now.  The things I am doing matter.  This is a feeling that I have only ever experienced at Olin, and is one of the main reasons why I chose to come here.  Olin is about doing things that matter - that change, and maybe even save, people's lives.  
Posted in: A Broader World View, Making a Difference