While on a research trip to the landlocked southern African country of Lesotho as an international STAR Scholar and Dornsife Global Development Scholar, fifth year environmental engineering major J’Anna Mare Lue saw firsthand the importance of water security.
Lue’s research project involved gathering feedback from community members on their attitudes toward WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and investigated the impact of El Nino-induced droughts on community livelihood, food security, health and WASH infrastructure. But as she conducted surveys, a particular question kept repeating.
“People have come before to collect data, how will your research translate to real change in our community?” she recalled.
The question reminded Lue of her childhood. Growing up in a rural coastal town in Jamaica, she had intermittent access to water, to the point where families had set days where potable water was available in our homes from the municipal supply. She did not understand the implications of this until her time in Lesotho which cemented her drive to increase access to clean water and sanitation.
“In a roundabout way, water and respect for nature are what led me to environmental engineering, but the opportunity for truly cross-disciplinary work that impacts public health and has the potential to improve the environmental quality of marginalized folks kept me in the field,” she said.
Inspired by her trip and what she saw as a child, Lue co-founded the Sanitation Health Aid Relief Project (SHARP), a student organization that aims to raise awareness about WASH issues faced by marginalized populations locally and globally.
SHARP aims to provide a platform for students and faculty from different disciplines to brainstorm and design sustainable solutions for WASH-related problems. The group hosts fundraising efforts to generate money and items, such as pads, soap, and water purification tablets to donate local and global communities with limited access to clean water and adequate sanitation. More recently, SHARP members have added a focus on issues of environmental justice.
“SHARP has been Black-led since its inception, and I hope it will continue to be an inclusive space for people interested in sustainability and justice to collaborate,” she says.
The group’s current project centers on fundraising and designing a community capacity-building effort to build 20 latrines in Sekameng, Lesotho. They strive to host workshops to improve the community’s resilience in drought on top of promoting sustainable menstruation, such as teaching menstruating individuals how to make cloth pads with limited access to menstrual products. Since the project is to be completed by March 2022, Lue “[hopes] to recruit new student leaders by then…so that SHARP will continue to be impactful both for the Drexel community and the communities we serve,” she says.
Lue says that getting the group started was relatively easy, especially with her previous student organization experience as a member of the West Indian Student Establishment’s executive board. She was able to write SHARP’s constitution with knowledge of a student organization’s expectations for conduct and representation.
“I do remember being very nervous about presenting to USGS and about recruitment,” she recalls. “But today, we have about 115 official members despite most of our active years being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”