PITTSBURG, Kan. — A group of Pittsburg State University students is trying to leave its mark in the world by developing a hydroponics system for an orphanage in Haiti.
“Overall, in one word, it has been amazing,” said Dodge Mattingly, a freshman from Bluff City, Kansas. “Getting to work with different kinds of people on the same project with one goal — I’ve had a lot of fun.”
The group, 20 to 25 students, makes up the university’s team for Enactus, a community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to create a better world. Enactus students at PSU, who come from majors across the campus, apply business concepts to develop community outreach projects.
Enactus has long been associated in Pittsburg with Krimson Kultuur, the fair-trade store it opened in 2013. The store, now only in an online format, sells the work of local artists and artisans in developing countries.
Last year, Enactus set its sights on someplace different: Haiti, an impoverished country that in recent years has struggled with the aftermath of a deadly earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak. The students’ initial idea was to find a way to encourage business among the Haitians and bring back some items they could sell at Krimson Kultuur.
“Based upon success with other projects, they decided that if the local citizens were taught business skills, they could open their own businesses and create income for their families,” said their adviser, Suzanne Hurt.
Three students traveled to Haiti in April 2017 with a partner organization. But after a short time there, and after visiting an orphanage filled with children who had lost their parents in the 2010 earthquake, they discovered the locals didn’t need business — they needed food.
Enactus member Emily Vue, a Pittsburg State University senior in international business and international studies, was the project manager for the hydroponics system she and her fellow students built for an orphanage in Haiti. She said she made many young friends on a recent trip to the country. COURTESY | PITTSBURG STATE UNIVERSITY
“We came up with hydroponics as an answer,” said Emily Vue, a senior from Gravette, Arkansas, who is majoring in international business and international studies. “Building (a hydroponics system) would mean the orphanages could grow their own fresh vegetables and then sell the extra.”
Developing the system
Mattingly, a mathematics and physics major, served as the project’s chief engineer and designer. He researched existing hydroponics systems and tried to morph design aspects from each of them into one that would serve the Haitian orphanage.
The system for the orphanage, he said, needed to be lightweight and inexpensive. Because of an unreliable power network in Haiti, the system also needed to be independent of an electric pump system, he said.
He and the team settled on a nutrient film technique system that would be tailored specifically for use at the orphanage.
“It allows the water to be in a continuous loop and flow, and it will allow the roots of the plants to be covered at the bottom by a thin film of water,” he said. “We decided that was the best system for what would be easiest for us to make.”
Once the design was in place, the team created a list of needed materials and emailed it to Haiti so partners there could gather what was necessary. Five team members traveled to Haiti during their winter break to build the system at the orphanage.
For Mattingly, the trip marked his first flight on an airplane and his first time out of the United States.
“It was a really unique, really special experience,” he said. “I was really impacted by the kids at the orphanage. They imprint on your heart.”
Vue said it was all hands on deck, and the local Haitians were invested in the project.
“Not only did I gain a valuable experience (as the project manager), but I also feel like I received more than I gave in going to Haiti and meeting the children there,” she said. “We were just a bunch of college students with an idea, and everyone there believed in us, and we were able to get it done.”
The team left the orphanage director with a complete manual for the system. Several of the students plan to return to Haiti sometime this spring to make sure the system is working properly and, hopefully, to find that the seeds they planted are growing.
“It’s hard to capture in one sentence the passion and sacrifice made by a group of college students from a small town in Kansas,” Hurt said in a statement from the university. In fact, I’m unsure if their accomplishments can be described in words. As said by one student, it’s knowing that one more person, one more child has a full stomach when they go to bed that makes the effort worthwhile.