Recently, my wife, Suzanne, and I attended an event at Fort Lewis College as a benefit for the Village Aid Project. Please read on as we learned about a small but wonderful and amazing project.
VAP was started nearly 20 years ago by professor Don May to engage students and faculty in serving unmet needs in developing nations. The focus has always been on water, sanitation, schools and other similar engineering-based projects using the expertise of college faculty and the FLC-based volunteer group Professional Associates.
To my mind, this program represents a peak of efficiency, effectiveness and heart. Students gain practical work experience and the uplift of serving others. Professors volunteer their time in a non-classroom setting, spending time with students, and all get the rewards of service. Rural developing communities, with their invitation and full involvement, receive sustainable technologically appropriate water and sewer systems, and in some cases, new schools.
Ninety percent, yes 90%, of money raised is used to buy building materials. Students volunteer their time and those who travel to the project communities cover their own travel costs. FLC provides in-kind support to this uplifting program for students, professors and the world.
Over nearly 20 years, VAP has built projects in 29 communities in five developing nations; 1,600 families now have clean and safe drinking water; 150 latrines have been constructed; and three schools have been built. Future projects may include sustainable energy systems such as solar panels. Each year, two to three projects are built with a total annual VAP budget of $50,000 to $60,000. Talk about a cost-effective program!
Remember, 90% of the budget buys project materials. I also really like the sustainability. Using appropriate technology – simpler is better, community buy-in and VAP’s five-year commitment to return, educate and support the community, the projects have enormous impact. Local leadership and engagement are paramount in identifying and pursuing proposed projects.
One of my favorite examples of appropriately serving communities was a past project. The Lahu Hill tribe’s beliefs hold that mixing waters from unconnected streams might upset the spirits of the streams. A single stream was used to source the water system built for the tribe.
This is a program that uplifts all involved – students, professors and the communities where the work takes place. You can learn more by visiting the Village Aid Project on the FLC website (fortlewis.edu). If you want to help, checks can be made payable to FLC Foundation, Village Aid Project. They can be mailed to: c/o Don May, Department of Engineering, Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive, Durango, CO 81301.
Please consider making a donation. I promise your support will be efficiently and effectively used. Your donation to VAP through the FLC Foundation is tax deductible. Join Suzanne and me in supporting an amazing program, the Village Aid Project.
John Gamble is a 38-year resident of Durango and a former mayor.