Fairfield University engineering graduate works in Tanzania to purify water supply

Image: Student in TanzaniaMany of Fairfield University's School of Engineering graduates take their engineering degrees and dive into working in aerospace, manufacturing or technology.

Not Christina Klecker '10. She headed to Africa. There, the 22-year old is utilizing her mechanical engineering degree to improve the ailing water collection and purification systems in Tanzania.

"I want to incorporate my education and background in engineering, because that is a valuable resource in the world," said Klecker. "Fairfield has had a major influence on my decisions which led to this trip."

For the New Fairfield, Conn. native, the ultimate goal is to provide sustainable water availability to rural communities suffering from drought and plagued by disease from unclean water sources. Klecker said significant organizations are at work in Tanzania, installing expensive water systems. But there's a need that is not being met.

That is where she sees where she can make a difference.

"They do not include the people in the plans," said Klecker, who minored at Fairfield in Mathematics and Physics. "Once the system needs repairs, the people realized that no one in the town was trained to fix the complicated equipment. That is why I intend to work with community members to solve the problem."

She's now nearly fluent in the language of the East African nation (The national languages of Tanzania are English and Swahili. English is used in education and politics, but the common language is Swahili.) Her mission involves trying to build bridges of communication with residents, educating them how to operate, service and repair the water systems. She plans to travel from village to village to do so. (To follow her efforts, visit her blog at http://ckleckerinafrica.blogspot.com.)

"This will allow me to learn more about their resourceful methods of problem solving while developing a stronger relationship and improving cross-cultural understanding," she said.

From a young age, Klecker remembers enjoying helping people - at her church, the local library, the New Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department where she was an Emergency Medical Technician and exterior firefighter.

At Fairfield, she was introduced to the Jesuit call to be 'a man or woman for others.' She soon founded a campus Rotaract Club, raising funds for cancer research and Haiti. After seeing how the Jesuit mission played out in her experiences with the Ignatian Residential College and Residence Life, Klecker went a step further by going on Fairfield service trips. A 2009 trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota involved restoring homes for the elderly. A 2010 Belize trip entailed constructing a church that doubled as a hurricane shelter, laying the groundwork for moving to Tanzania. "The exciting part about these experiences was not doing something for the people, but working with them to improve their livelihood," said Klecker. "I knew this was only the beginning of a lifetime of service work."

Rotary District 7980, part of an international organization whose motto is 'service above self,' awarded Klecker a scholarship for the Africa project. Her engineering education has been an asset in assisting Rotary Clubs to establish wells for water collection and purification "My intention is to build a relationship with the people of Tanzania by performing various service projects throughout the country," she shared. "Once I am acclimated to the environment and have a better understanding of the people, I will begin to visit smaller communities and work with them to improve the water systems in their village."

Her blog is a vehicle to share her story day by day. It also provides 'a taste of Africa today,' a picture that is not about the headline stories of HIV or war. Instead, the blog shows life up close and combats stereotypes. It offers a history of the continent in context to how its people are living in the 21st Century. The experience is helping Klecker realize how important healthcare is in impoverished nations. "There are also many aspects of this experience that I don't think people will believe unless they read it from me personally or see it firsthand," Klecker observes. For example, Tanzania is overwhelmed by poverty. The majority of people live on less than $1 a day, Klecker writes. One blog entry tells of her seeing women walk exorbitant distances with buckets of water on their heads. They must do this several times each day. Meanwhile, children are also left responsible for this daunting task of water collection and are missing out on a valuable education.

"In spite of this, the people I have met so far maintain an astounding kindness and admirable work ethic," Klecker noted. "I think it is important to share these stories, along with the funny stories, so that others can understand how this country came to be the way it is today. There is such a fascinating history in this area that I am only beginning to reveal."

Image: Transportation to many places is best by motorcycle. It was graduate Christina Klecker's mode of transportation to the Barbro School where she made a presentation about Fairfield University and the importance of higher education.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 3, 2011

Vol. 43, No. 224

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