Clean, running water is difficult to come by in many developing countries, so junior Elaine Golden has dedicated herself to running for clean water.
Golden will participate in her first half-marathon in the Miami Marathon on Sunday. She will run to raise money for the UM chapter of Engineers Without Borders’ (EWB) Ecuador Project. The project supports building a community’s sewage system.
“It actually provides a lot of motivation because when I’m struggling, I know it’s for something bigger, but also for me,” Golden said.
The project is a partnership between the UM EWB chapter and the community of Las Mercedes in Ecuador. They aim to connect the hundreds of homes in the community to the main sewage system.
The community is below sea level, and due to rudimentary septic tanks, flooding is frequent, causing sewage to pour into the streets. Creating a sewage system will help prevent the spread of waterborne diseases and parasites, according to sophomore Natasha Koermer, a biomedical engineering student who works with the Ecuador project and is the vice president of EWB.
“I hope to reduce the prevalence of waterborne illness just so that everyone can live healthier,” Koermer said. “I feel that people deserve those sorts of resources within their communities. It’s something we take for granted within the United States.”
Golden, an international studies major, is not an engineering student, but has a passion for water and sanitation.
“I think there are basic things that every person should have, and I get very upset when people don’t have those basic things and I think access to water and sanitation is so fundamental,” she said. “It’s a very important place to start in making sure everyone has a good quality of life.”
This project is a five-year partnership. Students have already gone on an assessment trip and hope to begin implementation of the plan over the summer.
The government of Las Mercedes is funding half the project, and EWB has a group goal of raising $20,000 to buy pipes and materials to connect houses to the sewer line. The group has already raised $15,000, according to Koermer.
Golden’s hope is to raise $1,000. She has suggested people sponsor her for $13 – a dollar for every mile.
Golden sees this half-marathon as a good way to achieve her personal fitness goals while promoting a cause she is passionate about.
“It’s a nice balance,” she said. “Having the cause provides a lot of motivation. When you’re running and things get really hard, you can just think about that sometimes people have to walk really long distances for clean water and then sometimes people just don’t have it.”
Golden attributes her goals to attending the LeaderShape Institute conference through UM, which helped students refine their project ideas. With just the hope of universal access to water and sanitation, Golden learned skills at the conference to refine her plans.
“It was a catalyst,” she said. “It helped me take a broad idea that I had been considering in the back of my mind and take that from just an idea and transform that into concrete action steps and plans.”
She hopes to tailor her international studies honors thesis to combine her background in Geographic Information Systems and the area of water and sanitation.
Her future plans include applying to the Peace Corps, various non-governmental organizations and possibly earning a master’s degree in international development.
“I definitely see myself spending most of my time abroad,” Golden said. “I know there are serious issues within the states and it’s important for me to understand those, but the most pressing needs for people, I think, are outside of the United States.”
To donate money to the cause, visit ssl.charityweb.net/ewbusa/pfp/wogforwater.htm.