A Beautiful Mind

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

Fabia Rothenfluh
Mission Aqua sprang from KC’s combined desires to address a serious issue while finding the fastest way to impact the largest number of people.

“I had heard of campaigns where people or big organizations donated purifiers for different schools and stuff like that, and I thought there’s so much more that can be done with this,” KC recalls.

This was 2010, and KC planned to launch Mission Aqua when he returned home from Rollins that summer. He needed some funds to get the program started. Not sure where to start, he spoke with Micki Meyer, the Lord Family Director of Community Engagement.

“KC came to me and had a vision and plan,” Meyer recalls. “He wanted to build off of the work that Dr. [Pedro] Bernal had done in the Dominican Republic over the past decade. He believed that access to clean water was essential in rural Nepal and knew he could mobilize students to get behind this effort since it’s simple, cost-effective, sustainable, and transformational for communities.”

“We discussed it for awhile, and she was like, ‘Here, I’ll give you $550 for this project,’ ” he says. “ ‘Try it out, make a pilot study, do a report, and see if it works.’ ”

The goal of the Office of Community Engagement is to connect students’ deepest passion with the world’s greatest need, and they often support student projects. “We want to direct resources to those projects that create social and environmental change on both a local and global scale,” Meyer says.

With $550 at his disposal, KC’s mind quickly turned to efficiency.

“My initial goal was to impact at least 550 people with that $550,” he reflects. “The purifier itself was cheap. It was the epitome of $1 equals one life kind of thing.”

That May, he left Winter Park for Kathmandu and launched his first pilot study. Later that summer, a group of Rollins students joined him to work on installing the purifiers. To measure the project’s effectiveness, he decided to install purifiers in two vastly different regions: in a rural area, for which he chose Bal Mandir located in Silgadhi, a village in far western Nepal; and in a more populated area, for which he selected Shridiwa in Kathmandu Valley.

The results? 576 students and staff members benefited. He had met his goal, but analyzing the impact in two different areas provided a lesson in value.

“The outcome was completely shocking,” he says. “In the village, people actually took care of it better, it meant more to the them, the impact was stronger than in Kathmandu. The school in the Valley didn’t have a purifying system, but the children had them in their homes. As a result, they weren’t taking ownership of it, and in at least two months’ time, one of the purifiers had already been broken.”

Duration became a concern, as did efficiency. While KC saw value in having Rollins students participate, he wondered if he could improve the process.

“There are two different issues at hand,” KC says. “You want Mission Aqua to be efficient, less money, more impact, and you want students to go to Nepal and have it impact their lives, but that means less time, more resources, more language barriers. Having students go on the trip was a compromise to our efficiency. Spending $1,000 so they could go rather than spending that $1,000 on the mission itself didn’t sit right with me.”

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