KeNeda Randall found healing from post-traumatic stress disorder through traveling to Myanmar with Fort Lewis College’s Village Aid Project and seeing a developing country through her own lens versus the experience she had while on combat tours in the U.S. Army.
Randall, an FLC engineering student, traveled to Myanmar in 2017 and 2018 to help construct a water system and check in a year later to make sure it was being maintained.
Randall said the transition from military to undergraduate studies was hard, and she needed to push herself out into the world again.
“Volunteering with VAP was a way back to sanity and a way back to standing on my own two feet,” Randall said. “I thought to help myself, I must first begin by helping others.”
FLC engineering professor Don May started the project in 2004 as a way for engineering students to use their technical skills to help developing countries and learn in the process.
Fellow engineering professor Laurie Williams joined a year later, and the two expanded the project to include other educational areas.
Williams said students learn how to improvise and come up with sustainable solutions, which broadens their education.
“Village Aid is developing a generation of young people who care about where they live and are willing to make a commitment for improvement,” Williams said.
In 14 years, more than 400 FLC Village Aid students have helped complete 28 water systems, 90 sanitation latrines and one three-room school throughout Thailand, Laos, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Myanmar.
The average cost of a water system is $17,400, with the community receiving the system contributing $600 by agreeing to maintain and make repairs.
Village Aid commits to a five-year-period where students and faculty return to the country to check on progress.
Water and sanitation costs are paid through fundraisers and community support.
Students pay for their own travel expenses, which typically cost $700 to $1,200 for airfare. Lodging and meals are provided by the people they are helping.
A life-changing experienceFLC biology professor Shere Byrd has helped lead Village Aid for six years in Ecuador and Myanmar.
About 40 percent of Village Aid participants come from the physics and engineering department, with other science, arts, business and sociology majors joining ranks.
Byrd said the experience changes a student. Rather than traveling abroad to Europe, Village Aid students shed comfort and help communities that have no water or electricity and live on about $1 or $2 per day, she said.
Byrd said they purchase all the supplies in the country they are helping so the people can repair the systems on their own.
“We try to make this a sustainable enterprise; the village has buy-in, and they form a water committee and develop structures that maintain the systems they build,” Byrd said.
Students begin a project by planning at the college and then take blueprints overseas and purchase the items needed to construct the system. The students then have the option to return to the country to check in on the system.
To learn more about the Village Aid Project or how to support the organization, visit bit.ly/2toHvKf.