Water is the source of life. In Gales Point Manatee, a tiny Creole community in Belize, it‚Äôs the source of survival.
The village, with a population of about 250, has many challenges, and some were the focus of a course on the Semester at Sea Maymester voyage, ‚ÄúEngineering a New Tomorrow.‚Äù Guided by Bernard Strenecky and Julie Ellis of Western Kentucky University, www.wku.edu the 29 students researched four broad areas ‚Äì water, jobs, energy and hurricane shelter ‚Äì to discover inexpensive and sustainable answers known as the $100 Solution.
During the 26-day voyage, students engaged residents of other countries and cities, looking for ideas, asking, in essence, ‚ÄúIf you had $100, how would you use it to improve your community?‚Äù The culmination of the course was the two-day program in Gales Point, during which the students could hear directly from residents and village officials and learn first-hand how they view the problems.
U.N. Millennium Goal No. 7 calls for reducing by half the number of people without good drinking water. The water team ‚Äì Grace McDonough, Mimi Boussouf, Deidre Herbert, Sarah Howard, Tomena Scholze, Melissa Peterson and Kaye Webb ‚Äì called themselves, ‚ÄúDrip Drip Drop,‚Äù with the motto, ‚Äúsolving water problems one drop at a time.‚Äù Before their arrival in Gales Point Manatee, they did a great deal of research.
‚ÄúOur research helped us understand water systems and water related issues in general, but without complete knowledge of the system in place in Gales Point and the issues that went along with it, we found it difficult to tailor our searches to the needs of Gales Point,‚Äù McDonough said.
Like water itself, Gales Point‚Äôs water problems flow into many areas of life.
Education is affected; the government closed the school briefly because of contamination. Health is put at risk. Tourism won‚Äôt grow, despite great fishing and manatee watching. People have water piped to their homes, but broken and leaky pipes allow sediment to intrude. The leaks are eroding the roads into the lagoon, which is a huge concern now that hurricane season is here.
‚ÄúWater is not a small topic for me,‚Äù said Gales Point resident Kevin Andrewin, who has been working on water issues for nearly two decades, in his first meeting with the Drip Drip Drop team.
‚ÄúIt was clear he was frustrated with the failed efforts thus far,‚Äù McDonough said.
During a walk in the blazing sun down to the village‚Äôs two water tanks, Andrewin explained to the students just how complex and multifaceted the problems are. One stakeholder is the Belizean government, which built a new tower in 2008. The water was pumped from a well with a diesel generator, but the price of diesel went through the roof and the generator was vandalized.
So now water ‚Äì along with leaves and debris ‚Äì is pumped from a creek. Chlorination is done manually with diluted household bleach. The filtering is less than effective.
Strenecky has been coming to Gales Point for 10 years and has engaged other colleagues and institutions to strengthen the community.
‚ÄúGales Point is a magic place, where the problems of a small village are addressed by the minds, hearts and souls of our students,‚Äù he said.¬† ‚ÄúThe village pays them back by love and kindness.¬† This is a place where magic can happen because it is allowed to happen.‚Äù
The stakes are high. A Rotary International club in Merritt Island, Fla., is working with a Belizean Rotary to fund solutions that will likely cost far more than $100. The student teams are each making proposals to the club, which will seek matching grants from the Rotary Foundation.
The students were able to meet with the village council where, McDonough said, a consensus seemed to emerge. ‚ÄúSomeone proposed the idea of putting a solar-powered water filtration system near the school, which is also sometimes used as a hurricane shelter,‚Äù she said. ‚ÄúThis solution would provide clean water for the children in the village as well as the town when after a hurricane.‚Äù
She says the team plans to stay in touch with Andrewin to help him finalize a proposal to the Belizean Water Service to clean up the creek. Teammate Melissa Peterson says she wants to bring the $100 Solution back to her school, Penn State, and collect medical supplies for Gales Point.
Andrewin is hopeful. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs sad but I don‚Äôt give up,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a lot of opportunity here, but you have to do a lot of things to get one thing done.‚Äù
With the energy and ideas of Semester at Sea students, many things will be done.