Bourgeois & Nicol turn class assignment into real-world philanthropy, bring clean water to Haiti


LSU School of Kinesiology athletic training seniors Olivia Bourgeois and Jenna Nicol brought their academic knowledge and passion for clean water to aid the people of Haiti in summer 2013. The students spent two months in Grand Goave and its surrounding areas distributing water filters to a population still living with the effects of the earthquake of 2010. The trip was made possible through the organization Global Effect.

The trip, their second to Haiti in a year, was the result of the students’ fundraising efforts born from a class project while they were enrolled in KINES 3608 Communicative and Noncommunicative Diseases in fall 2012.Their assignment required them to choose and research a disease that was affecting a population anywhere in the world and come up with a solution on how to combat it and how to educate the affected population.

“We chose cholera in Haiti,” Bourgeois explains. “There is an extreme shortage of running or even clean drinking water since the earthquake and water is essential to treating this disease.”

Their first trip as Global Effect volunteers in 2012 allowed them to interact with kids through organized soccer programs. It was during this first trip that Nicol and Bourgeois first heard about Global Effects efforts to provide clean water in Haiti through distributing water filters.

“Both of us were really interested in the filters and thought that it was such a practical thing to help the people because the need for clean water in Haiti is incredibly dire. We were inspired from there when he showed us the filters,” Nicol says.

They weren’t due to return to Haiti until summer 2013, but Nicol says they didn’t want to just check out until that time came.

“The second we got back to America we started thinking about ways we could help in the meantime. That’s when we got involved with the filters because we could help raise money for them right here at home.”

While the idea for water filters had already been planted, Bourgeois says that the class project really helped develop a better understanding of the severity of cholera in Haiti and how dire the need for clean water was in combating the disease.

“After we initially heard about the water filters, we thought it was a cool idea but we had no idea of the true extent of the disease and how deadly it was,” she explains. “And cholera is very curable if you have access to clean water. The project really helped us conduct actual research on the disease and solidify what we wanted to do to help and organize our plans.”

Their plans included raising money for a second trip in summer 2013, this time as Global Effect interns distributing water filters to Haitian families. They ran the Louisiana Marathon in 2012 to help raise money for the filters. They named their team “Hustling for Haiti” and made t-shirts, which they sold along with collecting donations. The combined efforts raised $5,000 for purchasing filters. Each $40 filter doesn’t need to be replaced, only cleaned regularly, providing water to a whole family or more according to Nicol.

“The nation of Haiti is so community based,” she explains. “So there might be three people living in one household, but there could be twenty surrounding them that would share this one filter. So paying just $40 could be going to a lot more people than just the traditional small family and could last them a lifetime.”

When choosing an avenue to raise money for the filters, the students say the choice to run a marathon was obvious.

“As athletic trainers, one of the most stereotypical things we do is keep athletes hydrated with water. We obviously do so much more than that, but it’s just something that simple that you don’t even think about,” Nicol explains. “You don’t even consider how much other people need water too, something we take so freely for granted here. It was cool to make the connection that one of the most unnoticed jobs of athletic training, giving water to the players, is such a serious need for people in other parts of the world.”

According to Nicol and Bourgeois, the project would not have been made possible without the support of their classmates and instructors within the School of Kinesiology’s athletic training department.

“Our instructor, Janene Grodesky, was always so encouraging and supportive,” Nicol says.

The students were inspired by Grodesky's passion for the subject material and her genuine interest and encouragement of their idea to raise money for water filters.

"I knew that their project was exceptional, but I had no idea they would take it to this level," Grodesky praises her former students. "As an educator, it was incredibly rewarding to see my students apply the skills and knowledge they had acquired in my class to help others, especially those who so desperately need our aid. I was 100 percent behind the idea when they shared it with me and I'm extremely proud of their hard work and dedication."

Their instructor and classmates weren't the only School of Kinesiology employees that made the second trip possible.

“We have a really unique major with our program being so small and so everyone is really close and was supportive and have been with us since the first time we went to Haiti and saw what a passion we had for it,” Nicol says. “The faculty within our program were so supportive and proud to see us take a class project and turn it into a real-world effort to provide clean water and combat disease.”

But their trip was not completely devoid of athletic training experience building. Upon their arrival in Haiti in summer 2013, Nicol and Bourgeois had two weeks free before having to lead teams of volunteers who would arrive throughout their two month stay. During that time they were able to work with an acquaintance at a local clinic.

“We did get to use some of our athletic training skills because people did get injured and cut up all the time,” Bourgeois says.

The students also had the time to volunteer at a local medical clinic, which exposed them different kinds of medicine and illnesses.

“We are so used to our sports injuries,” Nicol seconds. “Sprains and strains and breaks are second nature, but being able to see the skin diseases and other ailments these people had was such an educational experience.”

In addition to the their medical experiences, the students also spent the majority of their time in Haiti traveling to meet with local families and providing roughly 1,000 life-saving water filters over the course of the summer. The filters not only saved lives, but valuable time for local families, some who would have to walk two hours to and from the nearest water supply, which then had to be purified by tablets before drinking.

“We give them a presentation and we build the filters in front of them and teach them how to put it together and take it apart and clean it. That’s the most important part that they understand that, yes, it will last forever, but you have to know how to clean it,” Bourgeois says. “They were so amazed because the water they have available to them would literally be black and was crystal clear after being filtered. And we would let them taste it and they would all be thrilled. It was a really rewarding experience.”

Most importantly for both women, the trip was an opportunity to not only share medical knowledge with the people of Haiti, but also share their spiritual beliefs.

“I always tell people that I had the greatest job in the world this summer. We helped people, but we also got to distribute these water filters and spread the gospel,” Nicol says.

Bourgeois says the trip has inspired both students in the career route they’d like to pursue in May. After two years of mission together, the friends will be going their separate ways following graduation. Nicol will be returning to Haiti in summer 2014, while Bourgeois will embark on a year-long mission trip to 11 countries in 11 months.

“Our time in Haiti has had a profound impact on both of us,” Bourgeois says. “It’s been great because it’s allowed us to marry what we learned at LSU with our other passions. If I could combine athletic training and mission in some way, that would be the ultimate!”