A Beautiful Mind
Raghabendra KC ’13 takes a mathematical approach to improving access to safe drinking water.
Story and photos by Laura J. Cole '04 '08MLS
As a result, he and Mahara started reaching out to friends and former classmates from Nepal and looking for other partner schools to start MLB organizations at their universities.
“We offered help. We gave them everything they needed. We designed the projects for them. We told them where to get the funds,” KC recalls. “All they needed to do was to plan something like this, and we needed more human resources.”
In the end, he found two students who were willing to commit: Sneha Bhandari from Westminster College in Missouri and Manish Jung Thapa from St. John’s College in New Mexico. The collaboration proved worthwhile. They received a $10,000 grant from the Davis Project for Peace at Westminster. Bolstered by increased financial and human resources, Mission Aqua expanded. The next summer, KC, Mahara, Bhandari, and Jung Thapa installed 36 water purifiers in 25 different schools.
“The schools where we installed them had a larger population than the schools from the previous year,” KC says. “This time, we were reaching out to a bigger population, and the purifiers were better. They were stronger and sturdier and more expensive—but worth it.”
The venture was a success. They directly impacted more people, which KC calls being efficiently stingy, but they also expanded their reach. Rather than just focusing on improving water access for a few individuals, they added a component on awareness outreach. For this, the Mission Aqua team used a three-tier model: direct contact, word of mouth, and media.
“The third has the biggest reach,” KC says. “It is the least impactful, but it can inspire others to join the cause. That’s where we see the biggest change.”
The group was featured in an hourlong show on one of the most popular national television channels in Nepal. Within a couple months of the show airing, KC began hearing reports of people from other schools and organizations doing similar projects. Some even used the name Mission Aqua. They also presented their work at the Clinton Global Initiative University, which asks student leaders to make concrete commitments to solving some of the world’s most pressing issues, including poverty and lack of education.
Fast forward to July 2012. KC and Mahara are back at Bal Mandir, the rural primary school where Mission Aqua started. They are joined by a group of six Rollins students and two faculty members. Their participation doesn’t exactly fit KC’s efficiency model, and he’s sick from weeks of planning and trying to make sure everything goes smoothly. The exhaustion is visible on his face, but you wouldn’t notice it by the way he’s laughing as he moves from point to point at the school. He may know that he could be getting more done, but he doesn’t let on.
Instead, as a student facilitator on the trip, he’s taken a step back. He’s learned the fine art of delegating, but he hasn’t lost his focus.
“The purifiers are not working as efficiently as they were, so we’re replacing them,” he says. “The water source is nonexistent, so we’re working on providing a source that goes directly to the school.”
Larry Eng-Wilmot, a professor of chemistry at Rollins and the faculty adviser for MLB since its inception, has been managing that project and working with a local plumber to bring it to fruition.
“I like to hammer and drill and ‘jury-rig’ and generally get my hands dirty,” Eng-Wilmot says, “and all of those things are needed to install the new 200-liter per day water system for the school.”
Mahara, who KC sees as complementing his approach by being more interested in completely changing one life as opposed to reaching many, is leading the health camp component and educating students about hygiene and the importance of clean water. While KC moves around the school, Mahara spends the day in an assembly hall with the students, playing videos about dental care and handing out water bottles, so students can take the water home with them and discuss what they learned with their parents. The two work in tandem on different aspects, and KC sees that as making them a stronger team.
“We have different views on what’s effective,” he says, “which makes us more efficient.”
Both are passionate about their country and helping others, but Eng-Wilmot comments that KC and Mahara definitely have different ways of approaching that. “Adi has strong leadership skills and was comfortable from the very start taking the initiative, organizing his peers to take on an issue, and being mindful of the fact that details matter,” he says. “KC is the ideas person. He has the ability to see a problem from many perspectives and offer several solutions for consideration, rather than being tied to a single solution. He has an expansive mind, and is always thinking about how something can be done better to be more effective.”
At the end of the day, the children at Bal Mandir have clean water from a local source, which they can take home in the bottles MLB provided, and they have spent the day playing in the sun and learning about their health. It’s all in a day’s work for KC and Mahara. But KC is still thinking about improvements for next time.
“For next year, I am planning something big,” he says. “I’m thinking of using corporations to benefit the public and hoping to create a social responsibility movement. For example, banks are everywhere. If there is a bank in a rural part of a district, as a corporate responsibility to giving back, they can install a water purifier in a certain school in that region. We’ll do all of the work—the organizing, the installations, the educating. That is the model for next time, so we don’t have to worry about raising funds. I see this as being more sustainable.”