February 25, 2014

Students Making Clean Water their Mission

L-R: Gabriel, Legendre and Morales

UPDATE: Hope2o International has been offered additional funding opportunities that will allow their trip to Haiti to have an even more significant impact! As a result, their spring break trip has been postponed until April. Congratulations to these students--we will keep all updated!

Each year, 3.5 million people die from water-related illnesses (UNESCO, 2013)--political science majors Alan Gabriel '14 and Michel Legendre '14 are on a mission to change that. Together, they are the Co-Directors of Regional Ambassadors for Hope2O International, a nonprofit NGO founded by fellow college students at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, Fla.

FIU student Ali Albassam conceived Hope2O International after hearing statistics on the global water crisis at the 2013 University of Pennsylvania Model UN Conference, where he initially met Gabriel. Realizing their role-playing solutions could be implemented in the real world, he researched the issue further. In November of last year, Albassam and a few of his classmates made their first visit to communities in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, Haiti, to deliver dozens of LifeStraws, personal filtration systems that remove 99.9 percent of waterborne bacteria.

Gabriel and Legendre have since brought the message to the Northeast, and will be embarking on their own trip to Cap-Haitien during the College's spring break, along with global studies major Dorian Morales '15.

"People want to say that we're too young or that we're not the real UN," Gabriel said. "But we have all the emotional drive to make this successful.

"We have so many resources in this part of the country, with all of the health and educational institutions and people like [Partners in Health Co-founder] Paul Farmer. We can either settle and say it's OK, or we can do something about it."

The organization's mission is to use every cent donated to provide safe, clean drinking water to the people of developing nations by utilizing cost-efficient and sustainable sanitation technologies. Current systems include the LifeStraw, which filters up to 1,000 liters; a larger unit, LifeStraw Family, which filters up to 18,000 liters; and the Sawyer PointONE, a long-lasting, gravity-operated system that filters one liter per every 60 seconds, with a life expectancy of 10+ years.

Why Haiti? The Caribbean country is less than 700 miles from Hope2O's home base of Miami, a reminder that the scarcity of safe drinking water is not a distant, abstract issue.

"We're facing a water crisis ourselves," Gabriel said. "But the U.S. will be able to draw on all of its resources to find solutions."

"We want to accomplish three things," Legendre added. "We want to bring these filtration systems to Haiti, to work with local NGOs to help educate residents on water sanitation and to work with local governments to get better sustainability policies in place."

On their return, Gabriel and Legendre will bring back water samples for biology students to analyze, as they do with The Fenway's own Muddy River.

 "We just want to get societies up to 'normal' standards," Legendre said. "We want to get people access to clean water, so they can live healthier lives, not missing so many days of work and school. Eventually, we want to get them to a place where organizations like ours aren't even needed anymore."

To learn more about Hope2O International and to make a donation, visit the organization's website.

To read more about Albassam's first trip to Haiti, check out FIU News.