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Picture your dream getaway: White sandy beaches, crystal blue water, palm trees swaying in the breeze, waiters acting on your every command to bring you the finest foods and drinks available. If you ask any travel agent to send you to this paradise, they will undoubtedly suggest the U.S. Virgin Islands. Now picture your worst nightmare: Destitution seen in no other country, food shortages, no clean drinking water, minimal shelter made out of leftover tin that bakes in the day and freezes at night.
Surprisingly, if you turn around 180 degrees in your beach chair back in the U.S. Virgin Islands, you would see just that. A mere mile or two away from the lavish lifestyle of the international tourist is a world of misery and pain. A personal account by Bishop Herbert Bevard of the Virgin Islands is chilling, and will forever drive me to never allow myself to fall into an attitude of entitlement. He was handing out food to the children and after he ran out, a boy ran up and asked for food. The Bishop, not knowing what to do, told the boy that he was all out and that the boy should ask his mother for food. The boy then said, “I don’t get to eat today; it’s my sisters turn.” Personally, I’ve never been unable to access food a day in my life, and I cannot fully imagine what this boy is going through, but the thought of anyone having to give up food every other day for his sister breaks my heart.
As an engineer who looks to solve problems and not just identify them, I will always seek to determine the root cause of any dilemma I come across. If you feed a man a fish, he will be fed for a day…if you teach a man to fish, he will be fed for a lifetime. This is my philosophy while planning how to solve the problem of food shortages in the Virgin Islands. Instead of requisitioning aid to supply the islanders, I plan to teach the islanders how to grow food in the naturally fertile volcanic soil. Highly caloric and highly nutritious plants thrive in the Virgin Islands, such as sweet potato, rice, beans, durians, chili peppers, and mangoes. Teaching and creating an environment where the islanders could grow their own food is my ultimate mission for Mercer on a Mission trip.
In order to help adequately house the people of the Virgin Islands, I plan to use another unique sustainable resource of the Virgin Islands: bamboo. Bamboo grows everywhere on the islands and is thick and structurally sound. To address the problem of poor or no housing, I would recruit a group of students to travel to the Virgin Islands and design a plan to provide houses made out of bound bamboo. It would be the students’ task to find a way to shrink wrap bamboo to provide a base for the walls and the ceiling. We would design the prototype in the lab before going, but we would design the buildings on site once we find a good spot to assemble them.
The Stamps Scholarship would help me to improve the health and living conditions of a significant number of poor people in a country where no one sees them. I will bring together a committed team of Mercer students from different majors who are looking to change the most vulnerable communities. The places that people don’t look are often the places that need the most attention. I am confident that the Stamps Scholarship will help me to change the world through Mercer on a Mission.
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