A team of Stony Brook University students is preparing for the journey of a lifetime to help those in need, all while bringing awareness to the lack of access to clean water in impoverished villages around the world.
Micayla Beyer, 21, a senior who is majoring in physics and German, is heading up a group of 14 SBU students. The team will climb up the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, stopping along the way to help villages with limited access to clean water. The trip is in conjunction with WaterAid, an international nonprofit dedicated to improving access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities. Beyer said she learned about WaterAid through the organization Choose a Challenge, which pairs student travelers with a cause. To be eligible for the week-long Kilimanjaro trip, which begins May 29, each team member has to raise $6,000.
Kaylie White, engagement and support care associate for WaterAid America, said the organization has been working with Choose a Challenge for more than a year now, and the philanthropic treks can be a learning experience for students.
“Often on adventure trips like the Kilimanjaro one, students will be faced with lack of access to clean water and modern toilets as well, which is an opportunity for them to think more critically about how important those basic necessities are,” she said.
White said the trip challenges students both physically and emotionally, as they learn about the problems that are caused by a lack of access to clean water, dependable toilets and good hygiene.
“We hope that after participating in this trek, students will continue to be advocates of our work and spread awareness for the global water crisis,” White said.
Beyer, a 2015 Harborfields High School graduate, said she feels it’s important for people to know that there are areas in the world where residents don’t have access to clean water, and who sometimes have to travel miles to the nearest water source. Many times children will also help to retrieve the water, she said, and therefore are unable to attend school.
The college student said the trek, which will be her first trip outside of North America, is something that can be done with minimal training as the students only need to carry a personal backpack while guides and porters help to carry heavier items such as tents. She said she and the others will be grateful for the help as she admits, “we’re probably not as fit as we should be.”
To help students prepare, White said she and her colleague Elena Marmo, help students with their fundraising goals. They encourage efforts like bake sales and on-campus events, and in the past, some students ran 5ks for donations. She said Beyer has been an incredible advocate for WaterAid at SBU.
White said the plan is to have eight students from SBU participate in the trek, which will raise $25,000 for the organization and fund projects at two schools overseas to install clean water technologies, bathroom facilities, handwashing facilities and hygiene programming.
“That will make an incredible difference in the lives of children — allowing kids to grow up healthy and strong, staying in school so they can pursue their dreams,” White added.
Mary Bertschi, 22, a SBU marine biology major, plans to join Beyer on the mission. She said she was excited to participate because she studied in Madagascar in the fall of 2017 where she learned how many poor villages have limited access to clean water and toilets. During that trip, she and other students tested the parasite loads in young people in five different villages and found 85 percent of those tested had at least one waterborne parasite. She also learned that one in nine people doesn’t have access to clean water.
“That stuck with me,” Bertschi said.
While in Madagascar, Bertschi said SBU students had ways to clean water, including LifeStraw filters, but they did have to bathe at times in the dirty rivers and streams. She said the mild introduction to limited access to clean water was eye-opening for her.
Both students are near their goals of raising $6,000, and March 30, Greenporter Hotel in Greenport, where Bertschi works, will hold a fundraiser for the nonprofit.
Bertschi said the students will have to be realistic about how much ground they can cover on the mountain and will have to watch for altitude sickness, but she said the challenges during the trip will be worth it.
“I hope people recognize what a large issue this is, the lack of access to clean water, and the lack of access to toilets and sanitation and hygiene education,” Bertschi said. “I feel like that is something that a lot of people don’t really understand the severity.”
Beyer said she and her teammates are already learning from the experience.
“This path from signing up for the trek to reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is the hardest thing any of us have gone through — it requires incredible time management, self-discipline, a positive attitude, insane creativity and networking skills, all to fundraise the 6K each and summit the third tallest mountain in the world,” Beyer said. “The best part about this whole thing so far is that we’re making an impact on so many people’s lives and bringing awareness of this water crisis to Long Island where we have some of the best water imaginable.”
To learn more about the Kilimanjaro trek, visit us.wateraid.org/team/185472.