Healthcare Club Grant Helps Bring Water to African Village

The Healthcare Club, through its HC Grant Program, actively supports its members’ healthcare academic and service projects outside of HBS. The following article is an example of a great student initiative that was made possible in part through the economic support of the club. If you are interested in learning more, please visit the HC Club’s Grant Program website, at // /pro_development/grant_program.html. The next application deadline is Nov. 16th:

On the eve of graduation last May, a group of seven EC’s and partners set off for The Gambia to continue efforts on the ailing water system in Penyem Village. The group’s efforts began in 2006 when founders, Brae and Seth Blackley, formed a nonprofit organization, Friends of Penyem, and raised seed funding through the Class of 2007 Section E charity auction. Representatives from Friends of Penyem made their first trip in May 2006 to work on the system, but problems with the new pump stymied the group’s efforts to bring clean water to the village.

Penyem Village, located in The Gambia, West Africa, had been struggling without a healthy source of water for almost three years, subsisting solely off a small hand-pump that drew water from 15-20 feet below ground. This shallow source provided unclean and unsafe water, resulting in digestive and other health problems for the villagers. Most days, the hand pump dried up by late afternoon, forcing the villagers to make do with limited water for cooking and cleaning. “The health and economic challenges that a poor water supply creates for a village like Penyem cannot be overstated. It causes a great deal of sickness-especially in children-and undermines the villagers’ ability to farm and participate in other income-generating activities,” explains founder of Friends of Penyem, Brae Blackley.

This May, Brae Blackley, Seth Blackley, Leila Heidari, Nathan Barbour, Sharmil Modi, Martin Gilkes, and Robin Cherry completed another round of fundraising and returned determined to finish their work. The time in Penyem proved challenging, as the group worked as an intermediary between the village and GAM-solar, a renewable energy and engineering company based in The Gambia, to help set up a new water system. On the second to last day of the trip, however, the student group finally saw the pump function properly as water began to flow for the first time since 2004. “We have been working on this project for over a year, so it was a huge sense of satisfaction and relief when the water started running,” said Seth Blackley (HBS 2007, Section E) who serves on the board of Friends of Penyem.

A $700 grant from the HBS Healthcare Club was an important piece of the group’s fundraising, and contributed significantly to the purchase of the new pump, which was necessary to complete the project. Additionally, a fundraising half-marathon in Hyannis last February brought out many HBS students who contributed personally. Several other students, including Libby Cantrill and Chris Chan (both HBS 2007, Section E) were major contributors to the fundraising effort leading up to the trip. “It is great to see an HBS club and individual students stepping up and supporting this cause. It reinforces the global outlook that HBS seeks to cultivate in its student body,” commented Martin Gilkes (HBS 2007, Section E).

As a gesture of gratitude for Friends of Penyem’s work on the project, the village put on a large party with dancing and local music on the final night of the trip. The villagers were effusive with appreciation and praise for the project, which was the product of a strong partnership between Penyem Village, Friends of Penyem, and key donors such as the HBS Healthcare Club.

This group of HBS students are quick to point out, however, that the benefits of the efforts are equally rich on both sides. Leila Heidari summed it up well: “It is great that we were able to help the village, but it is important to point out that we also gained a lot from the experience. We had the opportunity to be a part of something really special; we saw new things, tasted new foods, and-most importantly-made life-long friends with people whose lives are so different from our own. Although we were there to help the village, I think it is fair to say that we took at least as much from the experience as we gave.”

October 29, 2007
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