By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Presentation Academy’s president Laura Dills, who came to the school last summer after a career with Catholic Relief Services, has taken care in her first year to bring some of her experiences to her students.
Last month, she led a group of nine young women on a journey June 12-25 to deliver clean water equipment to people in Africa.
“I wanted to share this experience, that the world is greater than Louisville. I wanted them to see it, taste it, touch it … let them realize they can make an impact and be a part of global change,” said Dills during a recent interview.
Dills, who served as a programming director for Catholic Relief Services, said she was fortunate to live for many years in Africa.
The group included nine Presentation students as well as students from Jefferson County Traditional Middle School, who took more than $50,000 worth of water sanitation equipment on their flight. Their 33 pieces of luggage contained equipment to clean and chlorinate water as well as equipment to make bleach. The gear was provided by WaterStep — a Louisville-based non-profit that helps provide safe water to needy communities around the world.
The group delivered the WaterStep equipment to Xaverian Brother Raphael Wanjala in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. From there, some of the equipment has already been sent to clinics in Uganda and the Congo, where it’s being used to stop the spread of the Ebola virus, said Dills.
In the fall of 2018 an Ebola outbreak started in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has spilled over the Ugandan border.
Dills said the advantage of transporting water sanitation equipment in this manner is the “immediacy.”
“It’s a quick process to fly with checked bags,” said Dills, noting it’s a good way to ensure the safety of the equipment as well.
While the water project was the focus of their trip, the students also visited Kamutiria Secondary School in the town of Chuka where they delivered more than 200 books. The books, which were transported in their luggage, will be used to start a library at the school.
The group also visited Sweet N’ Dried — a social enterprise in the town of Chuka owned by a local woman. There they learned how the dried fruit business was employing and empowering women.
The students said the trip to Africa gave them a different perspective on life.
Shelby Hyland, a junior at Presentation, said seeing the simple lifestyle of the Kenyan people made her grateful for the little things she has.
“I didn’t realize how lucky I am to be able to turn on the tap and have running water to brush my teeth,” said Hyland. Since traveling to Africa, she said she’s found that she’s more willing to share.
Alexis Cammack, who graduated from Presentation in the spring, said people tend to “downplay” the continent, but she learned that “Africa has so much to give.”
The way the Kenyan people value creation is admirable, she said. “Cows, goats, sheep were everywhere. It was a shared environment. No one was treating the animals as if they didn’t belong there,” said Cammack.
Cammack said she was also inspired by the way organizations, such as WaterStep, were helping women to “flourish” and how these women, in turn, created opportunities for others.
Many Kenyan women have become distributors of bleach — made by the bleach makers like the ones the Presentation group transported. The young women explained that in Kenya, bleach is very costly, but needed for use in clinics and in households to clean and disinfect outdoor toilets.
The women sell the bleach from door to door, noted Cammack. The women’s desire to live life on their own terms reminded her of the leadership skills instilled in her at Presentation Academy, she said. To help these women, the students also took more than 30 pairs of shoes to them.
Raegan Walton, a junior at Presentation who traveled to Kenya, said she was most inspired by the people’s gratitude even though they have very little material possession.
“Seeing them smile put a smile on my face. It made me grateful for what I have,” said Walton.