Due to spring break, Hope College missed a very important celebration: World Water Day! On March 22, people around the world celebrated the beauty of water! Though many Hope students were off campus for break, we made it a priority to celebrate this day when students returned. Many people came together locally to raise awareness and take part in contributing to this day of appreciation. The Global Water Research Institute, Office of Sustainability, Green Hope, Green Team, Office of Possibilities, Center for Diversity and Inclusion and Hope Advocates for Sustainability spent weeks preparing this event for World Water Day. Students, staff and members of the community all filed into the Bultman Student Center to learn more about the importance of safe and sustainable water.
The event started with two students Anna Whittle (‘24) and Lily Shergill (‘24) introducing the event and explaining what World Water Day is. This World Water Day event theme was “Accelerating Change” to solve the water and sanitation crisis. Whittle and Shergill spoke about the motivation behind this theme being that water affects us all, and we need everyone to take action. That means you too!
You, your family, school and community can make a difference by changing the way you use, consume and manage water in your lives. Whittle and Shergill informed us that globally, we are not currently on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. However, the U.S. policy commitments will be added to the Water Action Agenda, to be launched at the UN 2023 Water Conference – the first event of its kind for nearly 50 years. Commitments such as saving water, limiting pollution, protecting nature and cleaning up our local environment make a significant impact globally.
The introduction was followed by two speakers: Dr. Kenneth Brown, Professor of Chemistry and Schaap Research Fellow, and Dr. Virginia Parish Beard, Associate Professor of Political Science. Dr. Brown introduced his research by stating the Hope College Global Water Research Institute vision: Hope College students, faculty, staff and alumni will positively impact local and global communities through an improved understanding of water and be well-equipped to make data-driven decisions about the use of their water. Dr. Brown then went on to inform the audience on the Environmental Injustice in Northwestern Indiana: North Lake County Partnership of Community and Academic Leaders Seeking Environmental Justice. He started by clarifying environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income concerning the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies”. This will not be achieved until all people have equal access to decision making for a healthy environment.
Dr. Brown continued to present his research on Superfund sites (‘polluted locations requiring a long-term response to the cleanup of hazardous material contamination’) in Indiana including cities such as Gary, Hammond and East Chicago.He discussed the environmental injustice in these cities as most of these Superfund sites are located in African American and Latino communities. As a result, the White communities are overall healthier and safer – a perfect example of environmental injustice. These cities include some of the world’s largest oil refineries and steel mills, that contain 423 hazardous waste sites and 460 underground storage tanks. Because of this, Dr. Brown and his team of other professors and students are consistently testing water in these cities. Dr. Brown believes in overcoming environmental injustice through community teamwork. This has involved doing research with Purdue University (Ellen Wells and Jodi Allen), University of Notre Dame (Graham Peaslee), Valparaiso University (Julie Peller and Chris Iceman) and Hope College (Ken Brown) and being in relationship with members of the community passionate about making the environment a safer and healthier place. This has involved social workers, teachers, radio hosts, lawyers, churches, members of Brown Faces-Green Spaces and even some retired individuals. Change and justice come about when all people unite in the name of change.
This insightful presentation was followed by Dr. Beard’s introduction to her research in Kibera, Kenya with Bucket Ministries. Dr. Beard has been going to Kenya every year since 1998 after obtaining her graduate degree. She has a heart for Kenya, as many of her friends live there, and she understands the culture and community more than many westerners. Dr. Beard recalls having to receive water from a place outside of her university and having to carry water back to her living environment to brush her teeth, wash and drink. She had to endure this because of a politically-motivated water supply cut-off. Clean and accessible water is a personal cause for her because while it is crucial, it has been deemed as a privilege for many of her friends in Kenya; something that most of us at Hope would never comprehend. She spoke about her partnership with Bucket Ministries, which provides buckets with water testers to every household in parts of Kibera, Kenya to be able to detect which water sources are safest and healthiest, as well as why. This is a Christian organization that spreads the gospel while actively sustaining and aiding the community.
This wonderful event was concluded with Dr. David Van Wylen, Principal in the Office of Possibilities, hosting a panel with Dr. Brown and Dr. Beard concluding the conversation on safe and accessible water and how to continue to advance this cause locally and globally throughout the next few years.