By Lucas Manhice
In 2014, Flint’s water supply was changed from Lake Huron to the Flint River in order to upgrade the city’s pipeline. Shortly after the switch residents observed changes in the color, odor, and taste of the water. Furthermore, water from the Flint River corroded the pipes used in Flint’s service lines which resulted in lead leaching into the water. These factors combined deemed the water toxic and alternate sources of water were needed.
When I found out about the crisis I wondered if I could contribute toward alleviating it. As a MasterCard Foundation Scholar, I am taught to always think about ways in which I can solve the problems that affect my community and I believed that I could make a difference in this situation. I continued thinking about the problem and had a conversation regarding it with Dr. Sheba Onchiri, Academic Advisor and Student Support Specialist for The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at Michigan State University (MSU). Our discussion helped me to connect the dots between what I understood about the water crisis and the resources I had at my disposal to play a role in addressing it. As a result, I launched the Flint Bottled Water Campaign through which MasterCard Foundation Scholars at MSU contributed a minimum of $5 toward the purchase of bottled water cases that would be sent to the Flint community.
The MasterCard Foundation Scholars’ community as a whole took on the campaign with great zeal and played a huge role in its success. As a team we collaborated in spreading information and awareness throughout the MSU MasterCard Foundation Scholars community and established avenues through which donations could be made. Furthermore, we planned where to purchase the best quality of water at the lowest price and arranged the logistics of this process. The Scholars were extremely supportive of the project and contributed not just financially but also followed up and came up with ideas to make the campaign run as effectively and efficiently as possible. For instance, William Yakah, a freshman Scholar from Ghana, helped us to think about ways in which we could increase the volume of our donations. Other scholars such as Rachel Nantenza, a sophomore from Uganda, and Roselyn Kaihula, a first-year Master’s student from Tanzania, collected donations from Scholars in their places of residence. These are just a few of the many members of the community who participated in the campaign.
By the end of the project we had collected enough funds to purchase about 3000 units of bottled water. The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program staff helped us to organize the transport to pick them up from the store and deliver them to the MSU campus. These were received by the Sankofa Graduate Student Union(SGSU), an organization that was running a campus-wide bottled water collection campaign. The bottled water from our campaign was combined with that collected by the SGSU and sent to Flint.
This experience taught me firsthand that anyone is capable of identifying a need and coming up with solutions to address it. Sometimes we think that problems are too big or complicated to solve, which may be true in some cases, but I believe that it is in taking the first step toward a problem that we realize that it can actually be overcome. I will draw upon this mentality and experiences in the future when solving Africa’s infrastructural challenges.