By Christopher Minge, Edina High School student
Did you know that, according to the United Nations, more than 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water? This results in health issues (often mortality), educational issues (due to missed school time), and economic issues (due to missed work time).
I've been aware of the water crisis for several years, on account of my family's relationship with Haiti Outreach. I also knew that the organization was beginning a project to map Haitian water points, using software customized by mWater.
Before this mapping effort, nobody could really identify the thousands of wells in Haiti, the status of those wells (functional, broken, contaminated, clean, etc.), and the distance a given household needed to travel to reach a well. In the past, even when people did create partial lists, the information was very hard to visualize. However, in the present--on account of Haiti Outreach's efforts, and the mWater data platform--it is possible to look at "live" realtime maps for a completed region. Each map shows hundreds of wells, marked in green, yellow or red, based on functionality. Households are marked with dots. At a glance, a person can see if there is a problematic (red) region, or a group of households that is far from clean water. From there, Haiti Outreach and other organizations, can work together with targeted communities in their well-drilling efforts. Yet there is still a very long way to go in this undertaking, as only a few regions have been mapped, and hundreds more remain.
When I heard from a Haiti Outreach employee that--although he loved the mWater software--it would be very useful to have an iPhone app, I realized that this might be my chance to do something truly useful. Before then, I had coded Tetris, Asteroids and other games, but these had done nothing to address any problems in the world. The fact that I also needed an Eagle Scout project for Boy Scouts made the news about the app seem especially serendipitous.
That same evening, I googled "mWater," and found their website. I filled out a contact form, and wondered if anyone would actually read it. It was a bit of a shot in the dark. Yet to my excitement, and a bit of surprise, I soon heard back from Annie Feighery (mWater's CEO) and Clayton Grassick (mWater's CTO). They had actually been looking into adding the iOS platform, and they were willing to let me make the necessary adaptations.
I'm really grateful to the people at mWater for letting me do a project like this, and I’m looking forward to future opportunities to make a difference.
In a short amount of time, Melissa Seeley has become a familiar face in the lunchrooms at Edina elementary schools. She is technically a Lunch Room Supervisor, but hers is a new position that is entirely focused on educating students and staff about proper recycling practices. The part-time position is paid for by a school recycling grant from Hennepin County.
This is not Seeley’s first gig at the school recycling centers. In 2007, she and two other parents joined forces to start the district’s recycling program. At that time, recycling bins were few and far between in the district. The group worked with district custodians to outfit all of the lunchrooms with bins and then they stationed themselves at the trash and recycling areas of school lunchrooms to give hands-on guidance to help students learn. Now she is back on duty.
“Overall, the kids do a great job,” Seeley said. “The younger ones especially want to do the right thing. For the older kids, lunchtime is more social and they are in a hurry and don’t pay as much attention.”
Seeley can at times be found near the recycling station, and at other times she is wandering the lunchroom talking with students and quizzing them about what they will do with different packaging materials when they get to the recycling station: “Where do you think this will go – in recycling or trash?”
“I encourage them to think ahead and even rearrange the items on their tray before they come up. Then they can just dump into the appropriate bin and go,” she said.
Last year, money from the Hennepin County Grant was used to purchase bins as needed so that all of the lunchroom recycling centers have the standard, color-coded bins – blue for recycling, green for compostable, and gray for trash. To help students know what goes in which bin, the recycling centers also have a rack over the bins where actual packaging items are hung to demonstrate appropriate disposal.
Seeley works the lunch shift four days a week, rotating between elementary schools. She “dabbles” at the middle schools, too, to reinforce the recycling habit so that the program does not lose momentum as students progress through the grades. At the beginning of the year, she visited kindergarten classrooms to explain how the recycling works in the lunchroom for students who may never have had a lunchroom experience before.
“If we teach them early and make it easy to do, and easy to remember, these will be their habits for life,” Seeley said.
Aisha Malim already knows what she wants her life’s work to be about and this fall she got a head start. The Edina High School (EHS) senior was one of 10 metro area students to serve on U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s Congressional Student Advisory Council.
She applied to be on the council at the suggestion of a volunteer in the EHS College and Career Access Program, whom she has known for awhile. The application consisted of answering five questions – what do you bring to the table? Why choose you among other students? “They were questions that required a lot of thinking,” Aisha said. She sent it in one day before the deadline and learned a week or so later that she had been chosen.
The advisory council met every other Wednesday for two hours, beginning in late September through Nov. 2. Each year, the students select a topic on which to focus their work. This year it was immigration and refugees – areas of personal interest to Aisha and that align with her goal to pursue a career in humanitarian efforts and human rights work. She is an American-born daughter of Somali refugees who wants to shed light on the immigrant experience while at the same time try to understand her own family’s story.
“My parents don’t speak about their refugee experience,” she said. “I hear stories from my uncles. In fact over, the summer was the first time I heard the actual story of my parents’ immigration, but not from them. They have a right to not speak about it. It affected them deeply.”
The students on the advisory council each researched and created a presentation on one aspect of the chosen topic. This fall, students researched the health concerns of immigrants and refugees, xenophobia, and deportation and its effects on families (presented by a student whose father had been deported). Aisha’s focus was on fear – the kind that families face when they must uproot and flee to escape violence in their own homeland.
Ellison met with the council in person several times. “He told us about the work he has done, he explained how immigrants become citizens, and he wanted to hear what we had to say,” Aisha said. “He always took notes.”
When he was not able to be present, Aisha said Ellison’s secretary brought messages from him and work for them to do. Sometimes there were videos or guest speakers. It was one of those speakers whose story touched Aisha most. “He was the husband of a family from Mexico who had lived in family detention centers when they first came here,” she said. “I had never heard that story before and it was eye-opening.” She said his description of their dire living conditions was shocking to her. “I never expected our country to do that,” she said. “I never expected immigration to be smooth – I expected it to be rough. But not that rough.”
The culmination of the student advisory council’s work was a presentation to Ellison and other guests. Part of Aisha’s presentation was to read a poem that she wrote a year ago, describing the pain of leaving one’s home country to venture into the unknown. (Read Aisha’s poem, Somalia it's been a long time.) The Student Advisory Council also prepared a resolution that they presented to Ellison that would provide funding for an awareness campaign about immigrant rights in the U.S.
Aisha is just getting started on her humanitarian efforts. “I plan to attend college and perhaps double major in political science and journalism,” she said. “I want to study something that will help me do a lot of human rights work.” Inspired by her work with Ellison, she mentioned a possible run for congress some day or maybe finding a job with the United Nations.
For now, she offers this guidance for others: “Be tolerant. If you haven’t had an immigrant experience yourself you can’t understand how deeply it has affected a lot of people,” Aisha said. “Some people act like immigrants and refugees are here to destroy the country. In fact, they are here to escape violence.”