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ENVS grad students implement environmental education project in China

Shane Hall, Alayna Linde, Chithira Vijayakumar, and Marissa Williams traveled to Hunan Province, China, this summer with the UO’s Chinese Philanthropic Leadership Association (CPLA) to teach middle school students about the importance of clean drinking water and to promote the use of WAPIs (Water Pasteurization Indicators). While in China, the WAPI team also traveled 2000 miles along the Xiangjiang river with their local sponsor, the Hunan Environmental Protection Action Association, to learn more about the particular environmental issues that China faces today. Alayna and Marissa reflect back on their experiences abroad:

“Have you heard the story about the thirty middle school students, the four waiguoren (foreigners) and the E. coli? No? Well it’s a good one.

“Any new teacher would be intimidated by thirty incredibly bright, high energy middle schoolers herded back to school for one week of their summer break. Add in a difference of languages (and some wickedly hot weather) and you’ve got a good picture of Shane, Marissa, Chithira, and me, nervously sweating and smiling in front of the students gathered for the ILS project this summer in Hunan.

“But we had luck on our side: luck in the form of amazing volunteer translators and friends from the CPLA and the Hunan Environmental Action Association. With these rockstar volunteers, we were able to form connections with the students and their community and open up dialogue about the environment and how it impacts our daily lives.

“We taught the students how to test their drinking water for Escherichia coli (E. coli), an indicator for bacteria that can cause diarrheal disease. The students discovered that 7 of the 21 samples from their wells and taps at home tested positive for E. coli, posing a high risk to health if untreated. Armed with this knowledge, the students became educators to their parents and community members about the importance of water pasteurization. Over the course of two days, the students helped make around 90 WAPIs for their families and neighbors. The school plans to host another WAPI building workshop later in the year.

“We will always remember the students we met. Even if they eventually forget us (which they might) or the words to “You are my Sunshine” (which they have probably already forgotten), it is our hope that they will remember the importance of water safety and environmental protection, and continue to be learners and leaders for the rest of their lives.”

-Alayna

“I think the greatest accomplishment of our project in China is not the future potential of WAPI implementation in rural households, but is instead the cultural exchange gained by those who participated in our project. As students, volunteers, and project leaders, those involved learned a great deal about each other and the societal expectations of differing nations.

“For me, the biggest surprise while in China was seeing firsthand and learning from locals about the push for development—construction was never-ending and tourism sites were rapidly being restored (to which the sheer number of sand mining boats on Dongting Lake was a testament). Unfortunately, it seems as though China’s primary objective is to develop as quickly as possible, only to deal with the environmental consequences later. While a few individuals, organizations, and companies strive to protect the Earth’s resources, such as our gracious sponsor, the Hunan Environmental Protection Action Association, future generations are often disregarded in an effort to reach the level of affluence seen in countries such as the United States. Nobody can blame them, however, as they deserve nothing less. Therefore, after this experience in China I am even more convinced that more- and less-developed countries must work together to develop in ways that are more sustainable. A greater cross-cultural effort, in which people work cooperatively to make Earth a better place, is necessary to protect our planet. This is one of the many insights gained from such an amazing opportunity for cultural exchange…”

-Marissa

Listen to Alayna and two members of the CPLA discuss their trip on KWVA student radio here.