Student organization Just4Water seeks recruits to tackle global battle

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Trudging through trails, carrying buckets laden with something so vital you dare not spill a drop. This is a situation many are not familiar with, but it is a daily reality for those regions where water would never be wasted on green lawns and potted flowers. Dedicated to providing self-sustainable water solutions to developing communities, Just4Water (J4W) is a student organization tied to J4W, Inc., a national nonprofit.

Since official recognition as a student organization in February 2014, the group has completed three successful summer trips abroad, directly impacting over 100 families. The communities continue building wells after the students leave, using equipment and technology left behind for this purpose, making the indirect impact much larger. One project was for a hospital that sees roughly 200 patients each month, so the lives impacted are countless. The group has traveled to Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. J4W has raised over $45,000, which is used directly to pay for equipment and travel. The students instruct the locals on how to build wells, leaving the equipment behind for more wells to be developed. One location has already built four more wells since J4W has left.

Founders Guillermo Gomez-Salas ’13, a water resources graduate student in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University, and Mark Membreño ’14, a former student of the civil engineering department, wanted to utilize their majors beyond the normal means. They sought to apply their knowledge to a problem that was very personal for themselves and many others — lack of access to clean, safe drinking water. With family in regions lacking access to clean water, and seeking a way to use their degree in a sustainable way that would help others, they worked tirelessly to get the successful organization to where it is today.

“The great thing is, you don’t have to be an engineer to make a difference here,” said Gomez-Salas. “For our organization to truly be successful, many types must lend a hand. We need more students with a business, legal or marketing background to help us operate most efficiently.”

On Thursday (Nov. 19) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the organization is hosting Walk4Water, a chance to raise funds and awareness for water inequality by walking, so those in need don’t have to. J4W hopes for 250 participants to walk a collective 150 miles and raise $5,000 for upcoming projects.

“One of the things that makes Just4Water so unique is how involved they make the community,” said Laura Mendez, who was present at an appreciation banquet held on behalf of her parents. “The students approached my parents as Central Americans who personally know what it is like to need water. They relate so much to this cause and support it in any way possible.”

Maria and Concepción Mendez, local business owners of Raspas El Payasito, assisted J4W through profit sharing, assisting in events and even providing their taco truck for local J4W fundraising events, where the students made and sold tacos and empanadas for donations.

Recently, the student organization established the national nonprofit foundation, J4W, Inc. The group reached out to Mary Schweitzer, program manager, and Rabi Mohtar, TEES Endowed Professor, both of the biological and agricultural engineering department, regarding research of resources relating to water, energy and food (WEF Nexus research).

“Our organization on campus is a joint-venture that touches on many issues faced in developing countries,” said Schweitzer “Just4Water is focusing on water resources, which is a facet of our organization, so it is natural to want to reach out and help them. They are doing wonderful work and have achieved much in such a short time.”

Two more student chapters are in formation, one at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), headed by one of the original founders, Membreño who is attending MIT for his graduate degree, and one at the University of Texas–El Paso.

“We all deserve something as crucial as clean water,” Marco Heras, current J4W president and a senior industrial engineering student told the attendees of the appreciation banquet. “With your support and knowledge, we can continue to touch the lives of so many. We will keep going.”

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