Imagine if air were bottled, and every time you wanted to breathe you had to buy a bottle for the nominal fee of $2.
Of course, you’d be able to choose among a plethora of brands according to your social status, image and taste preferences.
Imagine if the same thing were done with water, an equally essential component of human life.
Two UR seniors — Tyia Clark and Palida Noor — use that air metaphor every time they try to raise awareness among their peers about the dire problem of inaccessibility to clean water worldwide.
But they’ve also done more than just talk and bemoan how Americans, especially college students, take water for granted and spurn clean tap water in favor of Dasani.
They have started the Rochester Water Brigade — a chapter of the Global Water Brigades — and, in an effort to “put words into action,” are leading a group of 19 UR students on a weeklong trip to the remote village community of El Canton, Honduras this January.
Global Water Brigades is an international organization that works to provide universal access to reliable, sustainable sources of clean water. The Water Brigades fall under the greater umbrella of Global Brigades, the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization.
Global Brigades works to mobilize university students and professionals in nine targeted areas of service — architecture, business, dental, environment, law, medical, microfinance, public health and water.
By 2016, the organization aims to organize 3,500 volunteers to develop 52 water systems, train 600 community leaders and provide clean water to 26,000 community members and 40 public schools.
Honduras is the poorest country in Central America and nearly one-fifth of the rural population lacks access to safe drinking water. Worldwide, one in six people — 894 million — do not have access to safe drinking water, according to the U.N.
Clark and Noor both felt drawn to the water issue because of what they say is its universal importance — especially given the currently raging debate on hydrofracking and the Keystone XL pipeline — and because of the general lack of knowledge about the issue.
“Water stood out to both of us,” Noor said. “It’s not going in to fix an existing problem — it’s a preventative measure.”
As a preventative measure, water seemed like an issue that could be concretely combated, Noor said, adding that the issue has personal significance for her because she grew up in Bangladesh and witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of the lack of access to clean water on third-world countries.
“We forget how valuable it is,” she said. “Water affects not only your health, but your ability to make money and to provide for your kids. It’s a basic step to basic living.”
Clark and Noor independently expressed an interest in starting a brigade at UR and were matched up by the global organization. They began talking in the summer of 2010, and the organization began to take shape this fall.
They currently have about 10 people who they consider their “main team,” but do not like to consider them an e-board because “it’s such a small group, and we like to work together on projects,” Clark said.
They also wanted everyone going on the trip to Honduras to have a genuine interest in the cause and solicited people they felt were passionate about the campaign and not just doing it to enhance their résumé, Noor said.
Rochester Water Brigades is not currently SA-recognized, but Clark and Noor say they have received support from several groups on campus, specifically Grassroots. A main goal for next semester is to become SA-recognized or join an existing group with overlapping interests, Clark said.
But they see the trip to Honduras as an essential stepping-stone to spreading awareness.
“Our goal for next semester is to have more on-campus events and to really focus on raising awareness of the issue,” Clark said, adding that they have already made plans to host a speaker who has been involved in water issues in Africa.
“I think with our knowledge when we come back and her knowledge put together, we can make the campus more aware,” she said.
The trip to Honduras has a two-part mission: technological implementation of the water system and education. Clark and Noor do not currently know what part of the technological implementation they will be working on because brigades from other universities cycle into the village, each picking up where the other left off.
The technological work could include transporting supplies or building parts of the aqueduct-like system that is designed to guard against water-related illnesses.
The education component will focus on informing the children of El Canton of the importance of watershed protection, according to Clark. It will be interactive and composed of skits, songs and engaging lessons, she said.
The brigade has been fundraising throughout the semester by soliciting donations from community businesses and friends and family. They are also using empowered.org, a site through which contributions can be made to an individual member of the brigade or to the entire group.
Clark and Noor said that their goal was to fundraise 10 percent of each person’s trip. They are still fundraising and recently sent letters out to businesses in each group member’s home community to solicit donations. In addition to monetary donations, they hope to get donations from companies like Wegmans that would allow them to purchase things like toiletries and other small necessities to bring to Honduras.
Both Clark and Noor welcome any interested students to attend the brigade’s weekly meetings and especially encourage students to get involved after the trip to Honduras.
“The beginning of next semester will be the hottest time to get involved,” Clark said. “We’ll be so excited to share what we learned.”
Buletti is a member of the class of 2013.