Letter from Dave T.

Here is a letter I received from Dave T, printed in its entirety:

Last Fall I discovered Chemists Without Borders when I was preparing
to accompany a Rotary group to Ethiopia and Uganda. With the group
scheduled to visit several potable water projects being developed by
Rotary, I considered taking along water testing kits and doing some
water quality tests. However I discovered that United States
regulations prohibits taking out of the US even simple Hach water
test kits such are used for teaching in our schools. So while we did
visit several water projects, I was unable to do any testing. We did
find that large areas have hand pumped wells where family members
routinely obtain presumably potable water and then carry it in 5
gallon plastic containers several miles for use in their homes.

Bottled water and Coke was universally available and widely sold in
both countries. The price of Coke was the equivalent of a few cents
per recycled glass bottle. There was very little variety of either
beverages or food.

I was impressed that while the standard of living remains low for
many people, televisions and cell phones abound, and Internet access
is being brought to schools and libraries. When we visited political
leaders and schools in both countries we received repeated requests
for “America, send us teachers.” We found classes typically crowded
and many schools teaching two shifts of children each day.

While it is unlikely that a significant number of American teachers
will help in east Africa, I see no reason why American teachers
cannot modify current instructional chemistry lessons and experiment
directions and post them on a single web site or at least link to a
common site so that peoples in developing nations can easily access
free systematic instruction and gain secondary and higher education
without having to seek funding for study elsewhere. We could deliver
education at many orders of magnitude less expense than either
sending teachers or as Rotarians are currently doing, sending
shipping containers of discarded surplus library books.

I have been probing to determine whether effective instructional
activities might be developed for such use. I have posted both
photographs from Africa and test versions of chemistry and physics
lessons on my web site: URL http://www.SequimScience.com/ I invite
CWB readers to contribute activity and experiment directions and
related instruction content as well as suggest other creative ideas
which could be further developed. This is another way that CWB could
cause an enormous benefit for these peoples.

PLease post comments!


0 thoughts on “Letter from Dave T.”

  1. I asked Dave why the water testing kits weren’t avalible to take ou tof the country. Here is his reply:

    I had my primary hard drive fail to spin up after a 5 hour power failure just after Christmas. My only significant loss was my mail archive, so I can’t go back and retrieve the actual e-mail. (Everything else unique was backed up.) But early on I contacted Hach Chemical because I had used a number of their inexpensive water test kits with my high school classes here in Sequim for years.
    Their rep was very helpful, even recommending a better bacteria test for the tropics than the coliform test I was familiar with. In a separate communication another rep said their products are available for purchase in many countries overseas. And our Rotary group leaders said they thought that water testing was available in east
    Africa, but had no idea if any testing had been done or was planned for the sites we would visit. They didn’t see much value in trying to do any testing. When I went to make a purchase on the Hach web site for kits to take with me in my backpack, I was required to provide my guarantee that any purchase I made here would NOT leave the country! I believe I read that it had to do with government restrictions prohibiting our high tech from flowing overseas. Perhaps I could have appealed somehow, but as time got short, having received no encouragement for any testing and lots of
    discouragements, I just gave up that effort.

    Now having been there, I suspect no testing was ever done. If I were to go back (nothing currently being planned), I believe it would be worth finding a way to obtain kits and pre-arrange for a local Rotary member to provide transport to existing and proposed potable water sites. For example one site we visited was a stream running off higher hills which were being farmed. They planned a storage tank and piping downhill to a village. The plan was for local villagers
    to take over the project and do any needed long-term maintenance. They are hard working people, but living in stick and mud huts with dirt floors and small family herds of a cow, a couple goats, and a few sheep. There might not be any initial testing and I’d doubt there would be any routine tests. The standing test seems to be predominately “if we all get sick, perhaps it was the water or food.”

    In Gulu, Uganda, clothes were dried by draping over bushes. Their 5 dental chairs had equipment unusable for a decade. Their remaining X-ray machine quit working 2 years ago. The private hospital had a
    memorial out back for staff killed a couple years ago by e-boli in the biggest know outbreak to date. That area has been war ravaged for a generation. 80% of the population is living in refuge enclaves.

    Feel free to share any of this. I’m a strong believer that
    information is beneficial.


  2. Here are some free resources that could help with educational efforts:

    Free textbooks on the web – see the Textbook Revolution site at:

    See also my posting on “Open Access Textbooks”, at:

    Or, wikibooks, from wikipedia (open-content textbooks):

    Free, open access journals on Chemistry can be found through the Directory of Open Access Journals:

    Open Access Repositories with Chemistry collections can be found through the Directory of Open Access Repositories:

    There are 7 repositories listed as having Chemistry learning objects:

    (I don’t know about the Chemistry, but my daughter tells me that Caltech’s physics learning objects repository has some really helped her in her first-year physics course).

    If there is support in the developing world for computers, internet, and libraries, there likely are some innovative ways to support education there. In addition to sending teachers there where possible, why not ask students in the developed world to work as tutors with students in the third world?

    Libraries could definitely play a role in helping people to become aware of the resources available to them through the internet, and this could be a good volunteer opportunity for librarians. There is a local Libraries Without Borders, group, for example.

    If I could figure out how I could fit in, I could definitely see myself helping to develop educational content within my area of expertise (not chemistry). I think many people would be willing to help out – the key would be to figure out how to get everyone coordinated.

    Thanks for sharing this information, Dave – very interesting!

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