A sense of achievement and a new perspective. That’s what seven students from Frederick County’s Career and Technology Center arrived back with after traveling to Ethiopia for two weeks.
“It definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things, and at the same time, I worked hard and had a lot of fun,” said Jerry Huang, a rising junior at Urbana High School who is also enrolled at CTC.
The students transported and installed a water distillation system that had been in development at the school for three years. The distillation system, called a rocket stove, helps to bring clean drinking water to Melka Olba school in a rural village. Students, teachers and the surrounding community previously drank water trucked in by the U.N. or from a nearby river.
“A lot of the folks in the community have stained teeth, and it’s not from not brushing. It’s because the fluoride really eats away at their enamel, so it’s just rotting their teeth,” said CTC teacher John Kriner. Kriner helped lead the project and traveled with the students.
Installation of the water system took a week, and the students spent the second week participating in activities including trips to the United Nations building and a cultural night at a restaurant where they watched a performance by traditional Ethiopian dancers.
“The fact that we got our invention working and could prove it and get to know the community and surroundings ... we fully entrenched ourselves,” Kriner said.
Olivia Dart, a recent graduate of Catoctin High School, attended CTC since her sophomore year and worked on the project since its inception.
She said saline levels and physical contaminants in the local drinking sources caused problems as well. Their goal with the project was to create a system that would address those issues and be simple enough for the school to maintain in the future, she said.
Andrew Daddone, another graduate who went on the trip, said installing the rocket stove was challenging because they didn’t have all the resources of CTC with them.
“We ran into some problems, and it was very different to have to problem-solve in that setting. ... We were in rural Ethiopia,” Daddone said.
In the end, they got done what they had set out to do and when clean water finally started pumping out, the faces of the students and local residents lit up, he said.
“It was very emotional for me, because I’ve been working on it for so long and we’ve hit so many roadblocks,” Daddone said. “We originally thought we were going to Ethiopia six months ago. ... We never really knew if we were going to make it.”
The group was supposed to travel in December, but due to a change in political power in Ethiopia and civil unrest, the trip was postponed based on safety concerns.
Kriner said one of the best lessons for the high schoolers was seeing how much of a real-world impact their work can have.
“It was just an awakening. It was powerful for them to see their invention have a purpose,” Kriner said.
Huang echoed those sentiments.
“Other high schoolers might get up and go to the sink and get a glass of water and go outside and walk to school, but then you have Ethiopians. They get up and drink out of E. coli-infested river water and then they walk 3 miles to school under 105-degree heat in the desert,” Huang said. “It’s very eye-opening to what living conditions are like not in a First World country.”
For Jess Twilley, a rising senior at Oakdale High School who is also enrolled at CTC, her favorite memories involved the local students from the school. Most were elementary school age, and Twilley said they bought toys for the children and taught them how to play Frisbee.
In return, the Ethiopian students tried to teach Twilley and others a few words of the local language.
The local students “laughed so hard because some of us couldn’t roll our R’s,” Twilley said.
They spent two weeks on the other side of the world changing the way of life for a village. They didn’t know their lives would be changed just as much.
“It was hard to go out there and see some of the poverty,” Dart said. “It made me realize that everybody who has something needs to go back out there and help people who don’t have anything.”