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It was while serving as a teacher in the Peace Corps in Madagascar and witnessing the life-threatening effects of diarrhea on children that Kendra Brown realized nothing improved the quality of life more quickly than access to good quality water. Though she had already completed dual degrees in Spanish and political science, she chose to study environmental engineering at OSU so that she could have a greater impact on solving water quality problems, which affect at least a billion people on the planet, most of them children.
Her undergraduate work at OSU was distinguished not only by high academic performance (graduating Magna Cum Laude), but from the beginning by engaging in lab research as a Johnson intern and later in her freshman year as a lab assistant working for Dorthe Wildenschild, associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. In 2007 she was awarded a Subsurface Biosphere Initiative internship and for the following year a URISC undergraduate scholarship to carry out her own research project--designing and supervising the manufacturing of a micromodel flow cell. She subsequently set up the finished flow cell for her experiments, which investigated liquid-liquid interfaces as they would be observed in a contaminated groundwater aquifer. In 2008 she presented her results in a poster session at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
During her undergraduate years at OSU, she didn’t forget the reason for her studies. As a junior, she participated in the Engineers without Borders program at OSU, and traveled with other engineering students to El Salvador during spring break in 2007 to work on storage and pumping systems for water, which is plentiful during the rains but scarce during the dry season. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in environmental engineering, Kendra headed to Madagascar once again for a few months to work with locals in the Androy region on improving their access to potable water supplies. The following is taken from the blogs she posted while living there from February to April, 2010.
Androy, the south-central region of Madagascar, is characterized by spiny forest, but much of the vegetation has been lost to slash-and-burn agriculture over the past couple of decades. The heat, dryness, and wind have become noticeably worse within a generation. Water is harder and harder to come by.
As a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, I'm working on a water/sanitation project based out of the town of Beloha. Our team recently visited the village of Ambondro to fix a pump. Because there was no filter in the bottom of the well casing, sand entered, clogged the piston, and eventually broke it. The whole system needed to be removed to make the repairs.
We brought some tools and materials with us: about 15 meters of PVC pipe to bail out the well, handsaws and wrenches, and some geo-textile for the filter. However, getting all the parts to fit and work together required a bit of improvisation.
First, My co-workers Amede and Christian bailed excess water out of the well to make it easier to pull out the well casing. Then, six of us used most of our muscles and three monkey wrenches to pull 12 meters of metal casing, in four sections, out of the well.
We finally pulled out the entire length of casing and the pump column inside it, and replaced the broken piston. After testing the parts together it was clear that we needed a lubricant between the piston and the well casing.
Goat lard was suggested. However, Josoa, the president of the water committee, pointed out that some of the residents of Ambondro are originally from the southeastern region of Anosy. It's taboo for them to consume any part of a goat. So instead, we coated the parts with zebu lard, which is universally acceptable for the Malagasy.
Finally, we wrapped some geo-textile as tightly as possible around the base of the casing to serve as a a sand filter. However, when we tested it, the overly-picky filter kept water out of the well too!It was starting to get dark and we didn't have any other filter material with us, so we had to return all of the heavy casing into the well in a different broken state. Next week we'll return with bronze mesh, and hopefully be able to leave town with our chins a little higher.
Epilogue to previous post: The pump in Ambondro is now properly fixed. When we contacted the pump manufacturer to ask for filter suggestions, they said that the problem was probably a faulty part rather than our geotextile. The replacement arrived, we installed it, and ta-da! Flowing water!