In June, four East Oldham Middle staff members will be going on a trip. But this isn’t your ordinary summer vacation. Each year, a team from EOMS travels to another country to install water purification devices using funds raised by students and staff, as well as donations from other local organizations and residents.
“We want kids to see education as a way to effect the world,” said Dennis Mangum, a science teacher at EOMS and one of the three who started the project in 2008. He’s joined by Principal Jim Ross and social studies teacher Josh McCurdy each year, along with a fourth staff member. Their team is completed by a driver/translator in the host country.
The project is woven throughout the school’s curriculum — for instance, art classes make ceramic water jars, science classes study the chemical change in purification and language arts classes read “A Long Walk To Water."
While students don’t accompany the team on the trip for safety reasons, they do make and send gifts, including those ceramic water jars.
Over the past seven years, the team has installed 18 purification systems in more than a dozen sites in four countries — Haiti, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and rural China, where they plan to travel again this year.
“We never thought we’d go back to China,” Mangum said. But, a non-profit organization called Blessing Hands contacted them and said the group had specifically been asked to return and provide more help.
Unfortunately, taking the mission to China nearly doubles the expense. The EOMS team estimates the trip will cost $18,000, including the cost for the purifiers and travel. Currently, they need to raise about $5,000 more for the trip. The team’s biggest concern is airfare, which continues to increase in price, and several flights have already sold out.
Funds raised are used specifically to complete the mission of installing water purification systems, McCurdy said.
Students and staff contribute by buying t-shirts and attending dances and other events.
“We each contribute personally and any tourism opportunities we have come out of our own pockets,” he said.
And don’t think the funds are paying for cushy hotels while their overseas, either — in fact, there aren’t cushy hotels anywhere near most of the installation sites.
“We’ve slept on roots, on floors, on mosquito netting on the ground,” Mangum said. “We even take our own food — we live off energy bars, oatmeal and peanut butter."
Frequently, Mangum and McCurdy said, they come back sick. One year, Mangum contracted a parasite and was sick for two months. They'll receive shots for typhoid, malaria and hepatitis before they leave.
But they agree all the work and discomfort is worth it.
“People don’t realize the need is tremendous,” Mangum said, citing a statistic that a child dies from contaminated water every 8 seconds.
“A glass of water is one dignity everyone deserves,” he said.
Because of state regulations, the South Oldham Rotary stepped up and handles donations for the project. Anyone wishing to contribute can make a donation to them designated for the EOMS Water Project. For more information, contact Tracy Green, Director of Communications and Development, at 241-3500 or