Changing lives a continent away

In rural Tanzania, Ralph Williams (right) and local residents use a water-filter mold developed by welding student at Arkansas State University Mid-South. (Photo: ASU Mid-South)

Tanzania is one of the largest countries in Africa, but almost half of its 51.8 million people live on less than $1.90 per day, and 54 percent of its rural areas lack access to water. 

More than 8,500 miles away, welding students at Arkansas State University Mid-South (ASU Mid-South) are doing something about it.

It started a few months ago when Ed Cook, lead faculty for the welding program at ASU Mid-South, received a call from Ralph Williams, a retired FedEx employee who told Cook about his mission in Tanzania called Sustain Ability, a program in Monduli Juu, a rural area of Tanzania with no water supply.

But addressing the issue isn’t so easy.

“Bringing clean water to people looks different in each area of Tanzania,” said Williams, who together with his wife are working on solutions for this part of Tanzania. “Water sources, terrain and population all play a part in determining what technology is required to serve people, but there’s a solution to everything.”

Williams explained to Cook his plan to provide water filters for this rural Tanzanian area in a way that the local people could participate and sustain.

“We found a design for building water filters, which can be built by local people with local materials,” Williams said. “Shipping in filtration systems into this impoverished area isn’t a sustainable option; it just makes them more dependent. We need something local people can make and afford. So teaching the people in this area how to build their own filters for themselves and their neighbors – that’s a process they can sustain over time.”

Getting to work

That’s where Cook and his class came in. The team made a prototype mold of a special filter that can make 55 gallons of clean drinking water a day.

“I knew if I had the prototype of the mold, it would allow me to show the welders in Tanzania the finished product and how it should look and work,” Williams said.

Cook knew he had a project that would not only change lives in Tanzania, but also change the lives of students attending classes in West Memphis.

“What makes our program at ASU Mid-South so strong is that we teach students the real-world application of what they can make through welding,” he said. “This opportunity not only teaches our students a practical function, but it also inspires them to recognize that this is a career where they can literally make a difference in this world.”

During the spring semester, students constructed the mold using metal donated by the college and local companies, such as Plant Maintenance Services Corp. and Hino Motors.

The project helped emphasize that welding is involved in almost every aspect of our daily lives, from manufacturing cars to constructing buildings — even crafting water filters that can save lives.

“Knowing you went out there and made something that will save lives of thousands among those who suffer from not having much of their own is an amazing feeling,” said project member Sarah Utley. “I will remember it forever.”

About the Author

Debra West
is chancellor of Arkansas State University Mid-South in West Memphis, Arkansas.