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Water for the World

January 02, 2011

In Peru, an interdisciplinary group of Ohio State students helps the community achieve access to clean water.

Access to clean water has been a topic of discussion in Felipe Moreno's classes at Ohio State; the environmental policy and management major plans to graduate this spring.

A six-week trip to Peru helped Moreno understand the problem firsthand.

“One of the locals told me it’s been a 25-year battle trying to get some type of water access to the town of Cerro Blanco,” Moreno says.

Moreno traveled to Peru through Ohio State's student chapter of Nourish International, a national group that calls on college students to help solve global poverty through volunteerism. (The group is one of more than 1,000 student organizations at Ohio State.) The Ohio State chapter spent last year raising money for equipment for a clean water pipeline and reservoir in Cerro Blanco, then went to South America to help Peruvian villagers complete the project.

Previously, Moreno says, many villagers used dirty water from the canals. “No one should be drinking that water,” he says.

After graduating in June, Moreno plans to return to Peru. The trip changed him, he says: "I've taken more interest in international service and issues affecting developing countries.”

In Peru, the group worked alongside locals--digging into the mountain to build the foundation of the reservoir, laying cement, and laying the foundation before they left the project in the hands of community members. That teamwork is part of what makes Nourish International special, says Nico Mata, the chapter’s president.

"We work with communities in order to find something that's going to be sustainable and work for them--something that they thought of, something that we can help them with, something that they believe, with their own intuition and hard work, is going to work,” says Mata, a zoology major who plans to go to medical school.

When they weren't working, the students saw ruins such as Machu Picchu and learned about South American culture.

“I’ve always wanted to learn about other cultures and see how other people lived, so this was a wonderful experience for me,” says Theresa Schmidt, an anthropology major. For her, seeing archaeological sites was a highlight.

“It was an amazing place to go as an anthropologist, because there was so much history there," Schmidt says. "It was really awesome to see what I’ve learned in the classroom, being implemented.”

When Mata came to Ohio State, Nourish International didn’t exist.

“I’ve always been very service-driven. Coming to college, I was looking for a group to get involved in, a way to do service,” the junior says.

Through classes, Mata met the group’s founder, Mackenzie Rapp. (Rapp graduated in June 2010 with a degree in international studies, and now is a grad student at the University of South Florida.) Mata quickly immersed himself in helping build the group.

"It was very easy for us to find a bunch of members, and now our group is going really strong,” he says. "That's one of the great things about Ohio State. With 50,000 students here, you can find people who have your interests."