After studying water issues in India and Tanzania, a Western Kentucky University graduate student will start her next adventure thanks to a $40,000 scholarship she was recently awarded by the Rotary Foundation.
"The thing with water is it is a global issue," said Leslie Ford, who is from Ohio County and getting her master's degree in public health at WKU.
Thanks to a Rotary Global Scholar Scholarship, Ford will pursue a second master's degree at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. The institute, based in the Netherlands, is described as "the largest international graduate water education facility in the world" on its website.
"Without their financial support, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Ford said.
Cheryl Kirby-Stokes works for WKU's Office of Scholar Development and is a member of the Bowling Green Rotary Club.
Water and sanitation is among six areas of focus for the Rotary Foundation. The others include peace and conflict prevention and resolution; disease prevention and treatment; maternal and child health; basic education and literacy, and economic and community development.
To get the scholarship, applicants have to study and work in a field related to one of those six areas.
What made Ford appealing, Kirby-Stokes said, is her experience and interest combined with her understanding of how water contamination can affect communities.
Growing up on a farm with its own well, Ford remembers being conscious of water use. But it wasn't until a college study abroad trip to India that Ford discovered an interest in water sanitation issues.
After spending three months traveling all over India, it was time for Ford to conduct her own independent research project, and she ended up in the Himalayan foothills of northern India.
Ford looked at socioeconomic issues facing villagers. Whether they involved workers traveling farther for work or kids having stay home from school because of illness, "a lot of them could be traced back to water and other environmental factors,” she said.
On another trip, Ford studied the water system of Tanzania, a country in east Africa. In Tanzania, water is distributed by trucks which deliver it to tanks for people to use. Wealthier citizens often have their own water lines, while poorer citizens may be forced to get their water from more contaminated sources, such as rivers and lakes.
William Mkanta, a professor in WKU's Department of Public Health from Tanzania, led the study abroad trip through the Kentucky Institute for International Studies. He encouraged other students to get hands-on experience from the program, which happens every summer in a safe and friendly country.
"What she observed is typical of a Third World country,” he said.
Mkanta has been leading the trip for five years, and said students come back to America with more confidence in applying for further education.
He described Ford as a driven student making a difference in vulnerable communities.
"To me, I think having access to clean and safe water is one of the basic rights of humans,” he said. "I think what Leslie is doing is noble.”