SUNY Oswego continues to provide relief and recovery after hurricane damage to Puerto Rico. A recent initiative ties into the college's Grand Challenges: Fresh Water for All campaign.

After fundraising throughout the fall semester, a group of students and staff members made the trip in January to assemble and install water filters that support communities that were devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017.

"When we got to Puerto Rico we were working with this foundation, Agua Limpia, and basically what they're doing is they're providing free water filters to certain areas in Puerto Rico that do not have water availability or where they're getting water is not well equipped," said Jayvana Perez, a freshman dual major in criminal justice and in communication and social interaction. "It's not well filtered and stuff."

"It was just crazy to learn that people live like one day on water, five days off water and we just learned a lot of stories about people's lives," said senior music major Kayla Brun.

"We obviously hands-on impact as far as putting the filters together, really training and educating the community partners, the elders that were in those communities, to understand how to use the filters," said Sheila Cooley, associate director of the college's EXCEL: Experiential Courses and Engaged Learning office. 

"Being a sociology major, I think it's really important to travel a lot and to understand other people's societies and not just our own," junior sociology major Kristen Bella said. "So that's a reason why I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to go."

"This is my last semester here at SUNY Oswego and I really wanted to do one last thing that helps me go out and venture out into new communities," senior human development major Michelle Uroza said.

"It's very important for the students to be involved and engaged from the beginning of the project and development and growth of it, because it gives them that opportunity to be the ones to lead in these projects," said Magdalena Rivera, the college's student involvement coordinator.

"I had this idea that I couldn't speak well in Spanish, but I was effectively communicating with them," Uroza recalled. "So I learned so much about me and my skills as a Spanish speaker, that I can communicate with them. I can communicate with other Spanish-speaking countries and other families. And it's just been great. It's been a really great experience because it empowered me even more to continue on."

The students were honored to be part of a big project that can make a lasting difference, senior broadcasting major Micah Pasinski noted.

"The people there were so grateful," Pasinski said. "So you could kind of see that this is gonna be a huge project and they're gonna continue doing it, the project, Agua Limpia. They're gonna continue doing it and I was just happy to be able to say, hey, I was a part of this major change to make sure that we have clean drinking water for everybody. And that's a right that we all should have."

"Although we're just doing a small impact, we actually are still helping people in Puerto Rico and they definitely still need a lot more help," Perez said.

The ongoing two-year interdisciplinary effort for the Grand Challenges initiative, Fresh Water for All is designed to advance the common good and contribute at the highest levels of theory and application and, in the words of the college's "Tomorrow" strategic plan, to "… finding solutions to the grand challenges of our times."

About the project

The Proyecto Agua Limpia (PAL) is managed by the Puerto Rico Science Trust and was borne after hurricane Maria to help Puerto Rican citizens in municipalities throughout the island prepare for hurricane season. PAL was created by The Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust through its Brain Trust for Tropical Disease Research Prevention program and in collaboration with Puerto Rico Primary Care Association Network, Corporacion de Servicios Medicos CSM IPA-19, H2O Worldwide, Kohler, Puerto Ricans In Action and Unidos por Puerto Rico.

The PAL project focuses on communities that do not receive government utility water service (NON-PRASA or Independent Community Water Service). PAL offers a green alternative to help end a cultural dependency on purchased, bottled drinking water. Further, the Kohler Clarity water filtration system helps eliminate up to 99 percent of bacteria and other contaminants and thus minimize the spread of leptospirosis, E. Coli and cryptosporidium among other pollutants and diseases that can be found in contaminated water, organizers said. PAL seeks to study the presence of diseases and contaminants and maintain proactivity and educational partnerships with communities on the safety and the right to potable drinking water. 

Through the support of SUNY Oswego Grand Challenge Fresh Water for All Grant, fundraising events within campus and community and donations received through various supporters, the college's ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) organization and the Center for Community Services' Alternative Winter Break partnered with The Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust to travel to Puerto Rico with three staff members and 11 students to actively engaged in the PAL - Agua Limpia Para Todos ( The Clean Water Project - Fresh Water for All). 

Oswego students and staff collaborated through conversations and development of the project with the Puerto Rico PAL’s project director, Leslie Mass.  Upon arrival, the Oswego group received full educational presentations from the staff of the trust and from faculty from the University of Puerto Rico who are linked to the PAL and other health related projects.

The group also received a tour of the trust and a tour of their Mosquito Lab with a full educational presentation on the lifecycle of a mosquito and the testing projects that are currently being conducted in order to see if there are any post-hurricane Maria borne diseases through out the island. Oswego's group served the municipality of Naranjito, assembling and delivering 180 Kohler water filters in collaboration with the staff of the trust and student interns from various universities in Puerto Rico.