With the arrival of hotter days comes the promise of kids running through sprinklers and diving into swimming pools. But this idea of a seemingly endless supply of clean water only holds true for a portion of the world, as the United Nations estimates 783 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water and 2.5 billion are without access to adequate sanitation.
This summer, Ohio State students are taking this matter into their own hands — literally. Members of the Pure Water Access Project will return to El Salvador to resume work on projects to provide sustainable clean water to local communities in El Salvador.
Founded by OSU undergraduate students in 2010, PWAP is a nonprofit, student-run organization dedicated to ending global clean water crises by conducting research, partnering with international water-sustainability nonprofits, and working abroad to make a hands-on impact.
Senior research fellow Annie Zhang, a second-year in microbiology, said PWAP is mainly focused on analyzing data as well as partnering with local nonprofits to understand the work that can be done to solve global water crises.
“We really believe data is empowering. We say a single intervention can help hundreds, but data can help thousands. It’s that idea of being able to take that data and apply it in not just one setting, but figuring out how to communicate that data to other organizations who have the same goals as we do,” Zhang said.
PWAP has two divisions, research and outreach, led by senior fellows who direct projects as well as mentor new fellows each year. The research division conducts surveys and analyzes data while the outreach division handles communication and awareness, Zhang said.
In February, PWAP was selected to attend the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative University conference and was one of two teams recognized by Chelsea Clinton at the award ceremony and presented at the poster forum at the conference as well, Zhang added.
PWAP’s most recent endeavors in El Salvador began this past spring break when it partnered with a water nonprofit called CEDIENFA. The collaboration’s first project was implementing a sky hydrant system — a high-volume, high-quality, chemical-free filter that helps with accessibility to clean water — in the El Salvadorian community in San Francisco, and the second was constructing biosand filters — which are filters that remove pathogens and other suspended solids from water — in El Cortez, El Salvador.
Senior outreach fellow Tejas Venkat-Ramani, a third-year in public health sociology, experienced firsthand the gravity of the water situations when she visited El Salvador in March 2014.
“It was the scope of the problem that was a bit surprising,” Venkat-Ramani said. “We heard personal accounts and (witnessed) pretty sad situations. The problem is still very large and it took a lot of time to get anything done.”
Outreach fellow Leah Sadinski, a first-year in public health, said she is preparing to face her own international challenges on an upcoming trip to Nicaragua with a leadership class she is currently taking.
“I’m a little nervous about the culture shock of going to a different setting than what I’m used to, and going into rural communities and experience poverty firsthand. But I’m really excited for the experience and I think this would prepare me greatly with the work we do as part of PWAP,” Sadinski said.
Only about 20 students are involved in the group, mostly undergraduate level with help from PWAP’s graduated founders, but Venkat-Ramani said the students provide a lot to the nonprofits they work with abroad.
“We bring the research and water knowledge,” she said. “As students at a large public research facility such as ours, we have tools that are not accessible to these places abroad. We provide these places with extensive research at no research cost.”
Outreach and fundraising are the main goals for PWAP in the upcoming years, as Venkat-Ramani said she hopes to see the group double its funds from last year’s gala and raise $20,000 at this year’s event in the fall.