Feb. 24, 2016
Water — such a basic necessity. Growing up in Michigan, I never really gave it a passing thought. If I was thirsty, I simply walked over to the faucet and filled a glass. I might have complained about the taste of well water when I was camping, but drinkable water was always a given. It was easily the one thing I missed the most when I was traveling in other countries where the water wasn’t safe to drink. What I had always taken for granted became a luxury I missed. I grew weary of brushing my teeth with bottled water and making sure to keep my mouth closed in the shower. After eight weeks on the road, I longed for a simple glass of tap water.
Though I hadn’t expected to miss it quite so much, I knew what to expect when visiting rural locations around the globe. I knew that developing countries counted clean water as a goal, not a reality. In fact, one of the projects we profiled was about a Spartan partnership that helped a community in Tanzania with access to water. Like I said, I expected a lack of clean water in places like Tanzania.
But I never expected a community in my own state would face a devastating water crisis that will affect the health of its citizens for years to come. By now, the entire nation is aware of the situation in Flint. It’s a tragic situation. While there have been many debates about how it happened, the most important thing to consider is what to do now. How can we help the people of Flint going forward?
MSU physician Mona Hanna-Attisha is credited with discovering the increased levels of lead in children in Flint. Originally rebuffed when she released her findings, this true Spartan never gave up. Now she and her team are working to “flip” the story so the kids do not become statistics of lead poisoning.
"This is our recommitment to the community and to these children for a brighter tomorrow,” she said recently. “We have a unique opportunity to flip this story and to build this model public health program, and I'm hopeful our children will have a brighter tomorrow."
She, like many other Spartans, is uniquely positioned to help the people of Flint because she’s been working in their community for years. MSU has longtime partnerships and presence in the Flint community. And there’s no way Spartans will abandon it now when it needs us the most. Check out MSU and Flint: Partnering for a Healthier Future, to learn more about the work Spartans are doing there.
In her latest note, Founders Day Reflections: Optimism and momentum, President Lou Anna K. Simon put it directly, “We’ll continue to be there long after the world’s attention has shifted elsewhere—and that really is a metaphor for Michigan State University and how we work.”
Heba Osman, a first-year student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, exemplifies that Spartan determination to help improve people’s lives. She spent part of her winter break in Al-Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan for Syrian refugees assisting physicians in providing medical care for a population that has access to none. She saw terrible things and heard horrifying stories that would scare away most people. Yet she is determined to return to care for the refugees who’ve landed there. Read her STUDENT VIEW: A Week in a Jordanian Refugee Camp, to learn more about this inspirational young woman.
Spartans are unwavering in their commitment to change the world for the better, whether it’s a community down the road, or across the ocean.
Sometimes, it’s not a crisis that takes Spartans across the ocean, but an undertaking to collaborate with others and bridge cultural gaps. Richard Fracker, professor of voice and chairperson of the vocal arts area at the College of Music, has created a vocal exchange program with students from MSU and some in China. The program includes collaborative performances in both countries. Fracker says it “unleashes the creative power of diverse viewpoints and contributes to the inclusive culture of our university.” Read his FACULTY VOICE: Immerse Yourself in China Through Music, to learn more about this cool exchange.
As I sit at my desk writing this, I no longer take my glass of water for granted. With every sip I think about the kids in Flint. I think about the horrible situation they’ve been forced into. But I also think about Spartans who are helping. Spartans identify problems, but also seek solutions. Spartans never give up fighting for what’s right and never stop helping people who need it.
Photo of the Red Cedar River by Kurt Stepnitz