Biology Students to Travel to Ethiopia During 2008-2009 Academic Year

Water First in Ethiopia

CHICAGO, IL (March 27, 2008) – North Park University faculty Linda Vick and Eugenia Benevich wiped away their tears as they heard the stories over and over again in the Ethiopian village of Bishikiltu. All of the stories were like the one told by a man named Negese.

"The water we get has worms," he told the women and the rest of the mission team with whom they traveled earlier this year. "We try to boil it, but the children are thirsty. They can't wait and take drinks of water when my wife is not there to stop them. Four of my children have died from drinking this water. I held all four of my children when they died."

Others told of their wives dying in childbirth due to the unsanitary conditions caused by contaminated water. To even get water — often brown in color — had required walking 3.5 miles each way.

Vick, associate professor of biology, and Benevich, an associate professor of nursing, made the trip earlier this year in preparation for a new cooperative course they have designed. Students will travel to villages in order to better connect the issues of water management and health. The class will be held December 27 through January 11.

The trip also was inspirational as the mission team celebrated with the people of Llama Muja. They gathered with 500 villagers for a ceremony in which the first of 12 new water spigots was turned on. For the first time in their lives, the people had access to clean water.

The people also celebrated that they had new pit latrines. A woman around 70 years of age invited the group into her small mud-thatched house with a corrugated roof — by far the nicest in the village — to show off her new home and pit latrine covered by an outhouse.

She told the group, "Every day I would go in the bushes, and I would hear someone, and then I would worry that they had seen us. But now I have this beautiful latrine, and I am no longer ashamed. I thank God for giving me this beautiful latrine."

The course apparently has inspired future students: The class filled on the first day registration was opened.

Vick and Benevich traveled with Water Action, an indigenous group, and Water 1st, a Seattle-based organization that helps poor nations access clean water. A number of North Park alumni have ties to Water 1st, as well. Stephanie Nelson C'91, Jennifer Norling C'89, and Kirk Anderson C'89 have taken similar trips in recent years. The class will work with both organizations.

Students will survey needs and do community assessments that will be used to help meet the village's future needs, including bringing wells to locations that do not have clean water. The students also will instruct villagers how to teach others about health and water issues.

Vick and Benevich planned the course, but Heather Duncan, associate professor of nursing, will lead the class. She says the course will have practical applications for work in the United States.

Students will learn how they can teach non-professionals to instruct others on public health matters, Duncan says. Biology students also will get a better understanding of the role of water management.

The professors say it is important for everyone to understand that water issues are the biggest environmental issues facing the world. "You have to deal with water first," Benevich says.

The class — the first cooperative effort between the nursing and biology programs — fits well with the schools emphasis on living lives of significance and service, as well its Christian mission. "It's more than talking about the gospel; it's doing it," Vick says.