Students Travel to Puerto Rico to Provide Fresh Water Following Hurricanes
Turning on a faucet to brush her teeth, taking a shower or simply sipping a glass of water has taken on new meaning for sociology major Mahalia Tiburcio ’21.
Since participating in a SUNY Oswego Alternative Winter Break service trip to Puerto Rico, Mahalia is keenly aware how fortunate she is to have access to something as basic as water.
“The thought of not having water never came to mind before this trip, but now I think about how many issues not having water can create,” she said. “Now, I try my best to not waste water and to cherish it knowing that there are people just like me who don’t have one of their fundamental needs—water.”
She was among a group of 11 students and three staff members who traveled to Puerto Rico in January to assemble and install water filters to provide fresh water to people whose communities were devastated by hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017.
In collaboration with the staff of Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust and the Proyecto Agua Limpia project, the SUNY Oswego team installed 170 Kohler water filters in the municipality of Naranjito—a community that does not receive government utility water service. Each filter provides a small family with water that is safe for drinking and cooking and free from water-borne diseases.
Students arrived for their seven-day trip and traveled to a church in the mountain community of Naranjito, where they learned about the Science Trust and how to put the filters together. They had many opportunities to interact with the community members and hear their personal accounts of how the hurricanes had affected their lives.
“The trip really put my life into perspective,” said Kayla Brun ’19, a music major with a double minor in journalism and psychology. “Being from New York City where the water quality is, for the most part, really good, I can turn on my tap to drink water with no fear. I have never worried about water running out. There are families in Puerto Rico who have to go four days with the water off and one day on because water runs out.”
The trip is part of the college’s Grand Challenges Project: Fresh Water for All. It builds on several fundraising campaigns and service trips to Puerto Rico, including those in partnership with the state’s NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovering and Rebuilding Initiative.
Student participants could enroll in a one-credit course as part of the service learning trip to connect the experience to a faculty member with subject matter expertise and to enable students to research, analyze and reflect on their service project.
“Service learning enhances a student’s education,” said Sheila Cooley ’03 M’11, associate director of Experiential Courses and Engaged Learning (EXCEL). “It helps students broaden themselves and creates a deeper understanding of empathy and respect for others. Service learning also helps students develop personal and professional skills in critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, organizational and interpersonal skills, civic engagement, leadership, responsibility, work ethic, global awareness and much more.”
Last fall, students involved in African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) groups and students of the Puerto Rico Alternative Break Group worked with Sheila and SUNY Oswego’s Coordinator of Student Involvement Magdalena “Maggie” Rivera ’92 M’06 CAS’07 to fundraise for the service learning trip by selling water tumblers, raffling a TV and SUNY Oswego T-shirt, and hosting a 50/50 raffle. They raised $4,700 in sales and donations.
Sally Familia ’19 and Mikayla Rebuquiao ’20, who are involved in ALANA organizations, helped put together the proposal for the fresh water project in Puerto Rico, which was awarded a $350 mini Grand Challenges grant by the college. SUNY Central Administration covered the cost of the airline tickets and insurance.
“It’s very important for our student leaders to be involved in these projects at the beginning and assist in the project’s development and growth,” Maggie said. “Then the students become the drivers of the project and gain the skills that enhance their classroom experience and hopefully assist them in achieving their professional and career goals.”