DAYTONA BEACH — Yung Wong can’t forget the children he saw in Haiti. Some had lumps near their bellybuttons caused by intestinal problems from contaminated drinking water. The memory has made Wong passionate about the importance of purifying water.
“(Seeing the children) just reinforced what we are trying to do with Project Haiti,” said Wong, 23, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate student who has been to Haiti twice with a team of students and professors installing water purification systems that they’ve developed on the Daytona Beach campus.
Wong and about 11 others are raising funds and finalizing details for what they hope will be the university’s fourth Haiti project this summer to help an orphanage and its school have safe drinking water.
“Our clean water will help prevent (illnesses) to other children in the future,” Wong said. “It’s very rewarding. You know it’s changing their lives.”
Embry-Riddle students have delivered to Haiti three student-designed systems since 2010 for a missionary relief camp, an orphanage and last year to a tent city for people displaced from the 2010 earthquake. That new system today is delivering 15,000 gallons of clean water a day to the area of Onaville.
In August, the students and professors hope to install a new system that will operate by using the sun through solar panels as opposed to a diesel generator used in last year’s design, university officials said.
Marc Compere, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and the monitor over the university’s Clean Energy Lab, said the project also will enable the children’s home to start a business selling clean water “to help improve their economy.”
Project Haiti is just one of many being developed at the lab, which moved to a newly renovated and expanded location on campus last fall. Wong and other students also designed an AquaPack, a solar portable water purification system that could be carried like a backpack. Wong and grad students Johnathon Camp and Shavin Pinto continue to modify the system and are working with the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubator Program in hopes of starting a business next year. A percentage of their profits would go toward humanitarian projects, Wong said.
The AquaPack idea works on a smaller scale like the systems students designed in Haiti and can be used for disaster relief and in global communities or even by the military. The team won $90,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year to continue with the project, including reducing the weight and size.
“Everyone should have access to clean water. It’s a basic human right,” said Wong, of Iselin, N.J., who spent this past week working on a larger prototype of the filtration system at the university.
Students have also designed their own filter using “very fine metal mesh,” Compere said as he demonstrated the filter in the lab.
Wong, who is project manager for the AquaPack, will travel this weekend to St. Louis for the Clinton Global Initiative University, which brings together experts and student leaders who are improving living conditions around the world. He will discuss systems they’ve installed in Haiti and the portable backpack project.
Another project Embry-Riddle mechanical engineering students have designed is a solar thermal energy storage unit that gathers heat from the sun and could be used for large air conditioning units. The team will compete later this month in Washington, D.C., in hopes of winning another $90,000 from the EPA to further that project.
Inside the new lab, students are also working on projects ranging from wind turbines to a biodiesel project using vegetable oil left over from the university kitchen fryers to power lawn mowers.
Some of the students have a close understanding of the value of their work. Graduate student Shavin Pinto wishes the AquaPack he helped design was available in 2004 when a tsunami struck his home country of Sri Lanka.
“You don’t realize how important water is until you don’t have it,” said Pinto, who went to Haiti last year and will go again this year. “We’re so used to waking up and opening the tap and having clean water.”
Bjorg Olafs, 24, a grad student from Iceland who’s also working on the solar thermal storage project, was touched by the children in Haiti last year and hopes to return.
“It’s really eye-opening. What you thought about developing countries is different when you actually see it,” she said. “It was awesome to help them out. They ran out into the water as soon as we turned it on. It was a little upsetting to see how they live (in tents after the earthquake), but they are still so positive and have a grateful attitude toward life. They were really friendly and giving.”
— For more information on ERAU’s Haiti projects and to donate, go to alumnifidelity.com/ProjectHaiti.html or call Assistant Professor Marc Compere at 512-587-8970.