posted February 5, 2008

Hope Cameroon Project Named Statewide Finalist

 A successful and growing Hope College service project focused on water quality and community health in the village of Nkuv in Cameroon has been named one of four finalists for Michigan's 2008 Carter Partnership Award.

The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration is given annually by Michigan Campus Compact (MCC) to one partnership involving a Michigan college or university and a community group, with its $10,000 prize divided equally between the campus and community partners for working together in exceptional ways to improve people's lives and enhance learning in the process. The winner from among the four finalists will be announced and the award will be presented during the annual Governor's Service Awards this spring, on a date yet to be determined.

The Hope program, which is partnered with the Life and Water Development Group of Cameroon, began during the 2005-06 school year as a service project for the college's then-new student chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA), with an emphasis on providing the remote village with purified water. During the first year the effort expanded to include the college's department of nursing, which surveyed the villagers' health and began working with them to improve hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.

Although the established water filtration and health education projects remain, new projects are being developed for implementation this May. The team is focusing on a piping system to bring water closer to the village from a river that is up to an hour's hike away. The team is also emphasizing providing the training so that the villagers can help themselves and train other remote communities as well. The villagers now build their own filters based on the initial design brought to them by Hope College.

Starting last year, the college's department of education became involved in helping to develop instructional materials that the people of Nkuv can use to teach themselves and others the health and hygiene lessons needed to improve health. The department of communication is becoming part of the project this year, with faculty member Ji Hoon Park and a communication student accompanying the team to film the work and training in action. Ultimately, the health and hygiene training materials and an instructional video will be posted online, available at no cost to anyone worldwide seeking to address similar needs in other villages.

"We don't want people to be dependent on outside aid or expertise for clean water," said Amanda Barton, an assistant professor of nursing who is part of the team leading the effort. "We want to say, 'Here are all the materials, here's what you need to do, let's break it down step-by-step and show you what each step looks like at the village level. We want to have an interactive relationship based on meeting the priority needs of the village while empowering them to make the decisions, build the filters, and teach the health and hygiene lessons.'"

The Hope team has so far made four trips to Cameroon - in March, May and December of 2006, and in May of 2007, with a fifth planned for this May that will include four members of the college's faculty and staff and 22 students.

Back on campus in between the trips, the team has been determining how best to meet the needs identified during the visits. The need for a piping system, for example, became the focus of a senior engineering design project. On a warm day this past summer, the children of the Children's After School Achievement (CASA) program tried out the "tippy-tap" handwashing instructional unit, in a literal field test that not only included learning about hygiene but also involved pouring water from plastic jugs tied between trees in Holland's Centennial Park.

The team has found the results rewarding. Nursing's initial survey of the population found that many of the children in Nkuv had some form of water-related disease, often manifested through diarrhea or even bloody diarrhea. The problem was so acute that experience had shown that four to six children under the age of five could be expected to die in any given six-month period.

That has since changed.

"We were able to cut the rate of diarrhea and bloody diarrhea by more than 50 percent within six months," Barton said. "Probably most significant is that we have had no deaths - we haven't had any child die from diarrhea or dehydration since we started the filter project."

The Carter Partnership Award was originally established in Georgia as a tribute to the lifelong efforts of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter to build and strengthen safe, healthy and caring communities in the U.S. and throughout the world.

MCC is a coalition of college and university presidents who are committed to fulfilling the public purpose of higher education. The compact promotes the education and commitment of Michigan college students to be civically engaged citizens, through creating and expanding academic, co-curricular and campus-wide opportunities for community service, service-learning and civic engagement. Some 41 Michigan colleges and universities are members of MCC.

MCC was chosen by the award founders to host the award in Michigan because the purpose of the award mirrors the purpose of the Michigan Campus Compact.

A selection panel composed of representatives from community, higher education, business and government organizations independent of MCC selected the four finalists and will choose the winner of the Michigan award. The committee chose the four finalists based on the combined merits of each program and gave careful consideration to how closely the applicants matched the award guidelines, which include: collaboration between a Michigan college or university (public or private) and the community for at least two years; a history of shared power and decision-making; impact on the lives of families and communities through increased economic opportunity, resourceful social and civic networks, or responsive public systems; data-informed planning and decision-making; an optimal blend of learning, research and/or service for higher-education participants; efforts to enlist other collaborators (such as businesses, civic organizations, government agencies, and faith-based institutions); documentation of measurable outcomes; and promise of sustainability.

In addition to Hope's Cameroon program, the finalists are: Alma College - Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force; Central Michigan University - Communicative Programming for Prisoner Success; and Partners in Preparing Community Centered Leaders: The Student Leader Fellowship Program at Northern Michigan University and the Community of Marquette.