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The Power of Solar: A Volunteer’s View

Sonya solar panels
Sonja Davenport, a senior civil engineering student at Vanderbilt University, climbs on the solar panels she helped install at Water Missions International.

My name is Sonja Davenport and I am a senior civil engineering student at Vanderbilt University. I came to Charleston, S.C. on a spring break trip with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ), where we spent a full day working with Water Missions International. I was overjoyed to hear that our service project would be in partnership with a Christian engineering organization, particularly one that specializes in safe water solutions. I have always been an ardent supporter of sustainability and alternative energy, and upon discovery that installing solar panels was one of the available tasks I jumped at the opportunity.

The solar panels were donated to Water Missions International by SolarWorld and the installation expertise was given by Mountain View Solar from West Virginia. The finished system will offset the costs of buying power off the grid. We spent the day moving the panels into place and securing them in a corner of the property. I gained a practical education in the installation of solar panels and an affirmation of their importance in the switch from an alternative energy source to a competitive energy source. Furthermore, I am impressed with Water Missions International’s reinforcement of their commitment to sustainability through the installation of these panels.

Water engineering has always been a passion of mine. Water is the world’s most valuable resource, yet it is still inaccessible in a pure and safe form in many developing countries today, and as such can be linked to many diseases and a lower quality of life. My studies and extracurricular activities have always been aimed with the hope that I would be able to use them somehow in helping to provide clean water to others, whether in the United States or abroad.

In 2011 I traveled to rural Honduras to install a gravity-fed water system over spring break with “Honduras Project,” a student-led organization through Wheaton College (IL). During that trip I experienced hands-on the design and construction of water systems in developing countries, but more importantly, the significance of culture and relationships when assisting communities abroad. I am impressed with Water Missions International’s focus on community development when designing and implementing their water systems in communities. It is easy to design a mechanism that transforms contaminated water into potable water; the real challenge is to ensure that the device is sustainable and maintainable by the people it serves. Education on use and maintenance as well as a sense of ownership are the true ingredients to any successful device, which Water Missions International has made clear and applied to their procedures of assisting communities.

I have taken multiple courses with environmental and water/wastewater treatment concentrations. With graduation impeding, my fiancé (a mechanical engineer) and I have discussed getting involved with a Christian engineering organization in the future, either part- or full-time, to use our education to serve the God’s kingdom and his people. Water Missions International is such an organization that we will be looking to work with in the future.

I am humbled and incredibly thankful that I have been given the opportunity to work with Water Missions International on my trip to Charleston. The instant I heard about it I felt that it was God’s gift to me – all of my passions, education, and experience wrapped in a single package of service to Him. I could not be more blessed, and I am excited to bless others through what we have done to serve this awesome ministry, and the possibility of partnership alongside Water Missions International to serve communities through sustainable water solutions.