Drexel Dragons Travel to Sub-Saharan Africa With World Vision
Drexel University President John Fry and a Drexel delegation recently traveled through several countries in sub-Saharan Africa to visit water sanitation and hygiene projects developed by World Vision, an international agency that tackles the root causes of poverty. He was joined by Shannon Marquez, vice provost in the Office of International Programs and professor and director of Office of Global Health in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health, and David and Dana Dornsife ’83, philanthropists and University benefactors (and, in Dana’s case, alumna), whose generous donations benefited the Drexel school named in their honor and also established the Dornsife Global Development Scholars program.
“The Dornsife family has enabled us to do amazing things locally and globally, as we work in our community and abroad,” said Fry. “The context is so different in Africa, but you see the same principles of humanity and deep expertise at work.”
The trip was held from April 22 to May 6, with Fry arriving April 26. During that time, the group visited project sites, schools, households and villages in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho to see firsthand the impact of World Vision International development projects related to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), which was funded by the Dornsifes. They visited communities, villages, schools and households and met with residents whose lives had been impacted by access to water and hygienic facilities.
Without access to water, those residents (especially girls and women) had to travel incredible distances to collect water, sometimes multiple times a day; the journey often forced girls to drop out of school, as did a lack of sanitation and hygiene facilities available for them there once they reached puberty. Nearby wells drilled in areas, as well as better and safer sanitation practices, helped diminish those problems. The team also met with locals to learn about the impact of WASH on their increased livelihood and ability to farm or engage in economic businesses.
“Water is the foundation for life in a community, but far too many people around the world spend their entire day searching for it … and we really witnessed that,” said Marquez, who is an expert in safe water systems. “We visited a community that didn’t have access to water for more than 60 years, and we witnessed the drilling of a well in the community that very day. The celebration that ensued was just so exciting. Time lost gathering water and suffering from waterborne disease will no longer limit the true potential of the people in that community.”
During the course of the trip, the Drexel delegates joined up with students in the University’s Dornsife Global Development Scholars program, in which students of all majors and educational levels gain professional experience by working with World Vision International partners in rural parts of sub-Saharan African nations for three to six months. They also met with World Vision staff who had participated in special Drexel online courses offering a Certificate of Global Health and WASH. While in Zambia, they attended a ceremony in which Fry personally delivered certificates to nine World Vision employees — and Drexel Dragons — graduating this year.
For Marquez, the trip affirmed the importance of Drexel’s Dornsife Global Development Scholars program, which was initiated three years ago by the Office of International Programs and Dornsife School of Public Health Office of Global Health and this year reached full operation by sending 20 students to eight different countries. With the support of World Vision International and the Dornsifes, the program is on track to expand to support water and global health programs in up to 25 countries.
“We observed some very innovative, low-cost, community-based solutions to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene in rural and urban communities in sub-Saharan Africa, but we also realized there’s still much more work to do,” said Marquez.
This trip marks the second time that Marquez, Fry and the Dornsifes have traveled to Africa. Previously, the group embarked on a trip to Ethiopia and Ghana in 2013 to visit World Vision sites.