From Classroom Debates to Action Abroad
The Sierra Leone Watershed Project Foundation (SLWPF) was born out of a series of conversations in a criminal procedure course taught by Vice Provost and professor of law Jennifer Collins. As students, Adam Chapman and I were vocal contributors to the course discussion and we often found ourselves on different sides of the ideological coin; Ryan Bouley was a mediator of sorts, as he often intervened with comic relief. Collins’ course was unique in that it provided an atmosphere conducive to exploring human psychology at the intersection of criminal legal theory. Her course put diversity into action. It moved students past sitting in a room with people from different backgrounds to learning from the various viewpoints that those backgrounds produced. The course provided us with experience that helped us in life, not just in the practice of law.
Adam and I became fast friends through our discussions in class, which lead us to discover that we shared a passion for giving back on a global scale. Adam had experience with charity fundraising and had volunteered in Haiti building cisterns to improve rural water supplies. He approached me with the idea of starting a project that would help improve access to clean water in Sierra Leone. He felt that his experience, coupled with my connections to the country, would make a strong combination and that our education rendered us capable of improving existing models and providing water in a sustainable, environmentally conscious way.
The project got off to a slow start because we were spending lots of time planning, writing proposals, researching and making pitches to people who could help fund the program but who had no real incentive to contribute because we hadn’t made any impact yet, and because they didn’t have any connection to Sierra Leone. We started this project in 2010 and after so many stages of planning we decided in 2012 to make whatever little impact we could with money from our pockets and hope that people would join us once they realized that our program was effective. Ryan Bouley joined the team shortly after we took this small step forward and has been key to our current momentum. Ryan is a businessman and he encouraged us to get our house in order in terms of finance and business compliance; since he joined the team the support for SLWPF has really snowballed.
As the SLWPF team looks forward, raising the amount of funding necessary to make sure that the project keeps moving is an ongoing concern. Although financial resources are necessary, making the right long term partnerships concerns me more than money. I believe in the generosity of the human spirit and I know that people will eventually donate once they become acquainted with our cause, but to truly make this project sustainable, in terms of passing maintenance responsibility back to communities and minimizing negative environmental impact, we need information and skills that the three of us don’t possess. SLWPF needs to become a collaborative effort across disciplines and organizations.
For the year ahead, SLWPF plans to hold a large fundraising event to build resources and strategic partnerships, to continue our water pump repair program and add a video/photo documentary program focused on developing grassroots solutions to Sierra Leone’s water coverage issues. The SLWPF team is excited about the challenges ahead and invites everyone who is interested to contribute in any way that they can. To learn more, visit the foundation’s website at http://sierraleonewater.org/.