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Twelve LSU students bringing clean water to a community in Panama through Global Water Brigades

Imagine your life without access to clean water. The same, seemingly unlimited, supply of water we get from walking just a few feet to the sinks or refrigerators in our homes. Now, imagine walking three hours to get that same clean water. This is the reality for many communities in underdeveloped nations.

Louisiana State University’s chapter of Global Water Brigades (GWB) is going to Panama over spring break to build a water system for a community that does not have access to clean water. Global Water Brigades is an international movement of university students working alongside local communities and technicians to implement clean water systems.

Ogden Honors students Sarah Glass and Blaire Peterson founded LSU’s chapter of Water Brigades in 2019. With Glass majoring in chemical engineering and Peterson on a pre-med track, they wanted to bring a service opportunity, which was not medically or technically focused, to campus where people with a heart for service could participate. The organization was quickly up and running and had its first brigade to Honduras scheduled for March of 2020, which was interrupted by covid-19.

“We were not going to be complacent because of the pandemic,” said Glass. “Our motto is ‘think locally, act globally’ and there were tons of people in our own community who were in need. Hurricanes Laura, Marco, and Ida had destroyed Louisiana communities, so we went on “mini brigades” to help with hurricane relief efforts. We would stay for three or four days doing hands-on work like we would be doing abroad.”   

“We are excited to be able to go on this trip. In spite of the multiple postponements and changes, Sarah and Blaire have done an amazing job in organizing the trip and keeping the group engaged and excited,” said LSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor and GWB faculty advisor Clint Willson. “The hands-on and cultural experiences that the students will get during our week in Panama are an important part of their LSU education and growth as socially conscious global citizens and leaders.”

For people who must make the trek for clean water, their quality of life is severely impacted by things like not being able to go to school, the ability to maintain personal hygiene, or the physical labor it takes to access clean water. “A lack of proper hygiene infrastructure causes major public health issues, and GWB is working to stop that issue at its source. I was inspired by the long-term impact that constructing these systems has on rural communities,” said Peterson.

The water systems are designed, planned, and budgeted with partner communities and local leaders are identified by the community to serve as the community’s Water Council, which collects monthly water fees from households to operate and maintain the constructed water system. It then takes several months of construction by volunteers, staff, and community members to complete and can include several large-scale components, such as dams and storage tanks in order to pipe clean water to individual homes. 

The group of LSU students will be the first to set foot on the site they are visiting, but they are part of Global Brigades’ holistic model to meet the community’s health and economic goals. The model systematically builds community ownership and collaboratively executes programs with the end goal of sustainably transitioning to a relationship of impact monitoring. In conjunction with the Water Program, Global Brigades will also support the community  with healthcare, economic development, and sanitation projects. 

Science

Blaire Peterson* – Founder

Biochemistry – Darrow, La.

 

Ashley Patron*

Physics – Belle Chasse, La

 

Forge Mathes*

Biochemistry – Convington, La.

 

Natalie Lim*

Biochemistry – Shreveport, La.

 

Engineering

Clint Willson* – Faculty Advisor

Civil and Environmental Engineering

 

Sarah Glass* – Founder

Chemical Engineering – Algonquin, Ill.

 

Max Scheurich*

Mechanical Engineering – Metairie, La.

 

Jacques Gaspard

Chemical Engineering – Baton Rouge, La.

 

Catherine Harper

Chemical Engineering – Cumming, Ga.

 

Eli Coleman

Mechanical Engineering – Prairieville, La.

 

Everett Craddock*

Environmental Engineering – Lafayette, La.

 

Mass Communication 

Alex Spencer*

Mass Communication - Prairieville, La.

 

Agriculture

Lexie LaGrone*

Natural Resource Ecology & Management - Lafayette, La.

*indicates Ogden Honors College students