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Grant helps Tanzania service learning initiative reach next level

A Battelle Engineering, Technology and Human Affairs (BETHA) grant will help establish and develop the Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community (SRTC) program at Ohio State. Led by Michael Hagenberger, associate professor of practice for civil, environmental and geodetic engineering, and Joseph Campbell, lecturer for the School of Environment and Natural Resources, SRTC was one of just five projects selected to receive BETHA funding in 2017 out of 33 submitted proposals.

Professor and students gather with villagers in front of house in rural Tanzania.Professor Michael Hagenberger (far right) and students during a May 2017 trip to Tanzania. SRTC is an interdisciplinary, international development service learning initiative that brings together students from Ohio State and the University of Dodoma, Tanzania’s largest public university, in leading-edge civil engineering and community development practice and local indigenous resource management systems. Its first project—Maji Marwa or Water for Marwa—focuses on bringing clean, safe and accessible water to the village, while training the next generation of engineers, scientists and development workers in providing real-world solutions to needs.

The $58,000 grant will allow Hagenberger and other organizers to establish the network needed in Columbus and in Tanzania to ensure long-term, sustainable success. It will support a program director position, held by Tony Duke, who serves as the community’s voice on project initiatives and issues. The funding will also help grow capacity with the Kilimanjaro Hope Organization, the local NGO that assists with key areas such as communicating about the project with community members; relaying information from the community back to the Ohio State team, and handling local, district and national government issues to ensure the project progresses.

“The BETHA grant gives us the time to fully develop the program and gets us to the next level,” Hagenberger said. “If we were spending the next two years looking for how to pay those costs, we couldn’t spend them doing the things needed to make the program successful so that we have a way to fund those costs in the future.”

The Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community program is truly a university effort, Hagenberger said, with experts from many disciplines across campus, from earth sciences to sociology to public health, collaborating to ensure long-term success. For the Maji Marwa project, Ohio State researchers and students are studying a variety of issues, from the area’s ground water to the effect of climate change on Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru—Marwa’s water sources.

“Understanding that whole system is critical. Marwa today needs water, but Marwa in ten years also needs water. These are the things you have to start thinking about now so that in 15 years if the Pangani River isn’t providing enough water, there are other options we can look at,” he said.

The breadth and depth of expertise at Ohio State is what drew Hagenberger to the university in the first place.

“One of the reasons I came here was resources: people, minds, ideas. That’s what exists here,” he explained. “We can go and find almost anybody we need.”

Besides helping the Tanzanians, SRTC hopes to test and share best practices for sustainable development that can be a model for projects around the globe.

“Once we get the process right and understand what the key parameters are, then we can start talking to other people about doing this the right way,” he said. “For decades, we’ve had this top-down approach for development, but if it doesn’t come from the community, it doesn’t work. So those relationships, the understanding of the community, what their vision is, what their challenges are, that’s where the success comes from.”

A partnership of the Battelle Memorial Institute and The Ohio State University, the BETHA annual grant competition supports projects that examine the complex relationship between science and technology on society and cultural issues.

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications,