Katherine and Tupac in Chilcapamba, Ecuador.
We recently caught up with Katherine Correll, an alumna of our summer community service program in Ecuador, to talk about the non-profit she founded to bring clean, potable water to the community of Chilcapamba, Ecuador. Katherine noticed a pressing need for access to water in her community service village during her summer with Putney, and founded Pump It Up upon her return to the United States. Pump It Up aims to install solar-powered water pumps in communities for whom water access is difficult. We’re thrilled to report that enough funds have been raised to install the first pump in Chilcapamba this summer, with the help of this summer’s Putney students! A current senior at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta, Georgia, Katherine will continue her work and her studies as an Engineering student with a focus on International Relations and Spanish at Georgia Tech in the fall. Learn more about her experience in Ecuador and her goal of bringing clean water to rural communities.
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Can you tell us a little bit about your time in Ecuador? What moments or experience stuck with you the most?
This is actually the hardest question you could ask me. Every time someone asks me about my trip I go on a 20 minute rant about it because it honestly was the best experience of my life. It’s a cliché – I met the most amazing people, saw the most amazing things, and had the most amazing experiences of my life. My group became my best friends and I still talk to them every day. My leaders became my role models and they are still there for me whenever I need them. My host village became my second home and I know that I can return there whenever and that they will embrace me with open arms. And my host family became part of my real family. I lived with a group of 12 other high schoolers and 2 leaders in a small village for a month, and in some weird way we became our own dysfunctional family and Chilcapamba is our home.
When we were working in the village one day, the retaining wall keeping the road from overflowing into the water supply broke. All of the dirt and pebbles that made up the road went pouring down, but we didn’t get discouraged. As a group we came back after lunch and started assembly lines, took turns shoveling, and worked harder and longer than we ever had to in order to reconstruct the wall before we were done for the day. As a group of thirteen students who had never met before, we came together to make a difference larger than I could have ever imagined.
Katherine and with her Community Service Ecuador group
What have you been up to since last summer? Can you summarize for us your ongoing project with Pump It Up and Chilcapamba?
Since last summer, I’ve founded a nonprofit called Pump It Up. I’m in a three year program at my school, that you apply to as a sophomore called The Program for Global Citizenship. It’s a discussion-based class on global and local issues, and as a requirement for it you have to travel during the summer through student travel organizations like Putney. As a senior, you are given the challenge of creating an organization with the goal of having a lasting impact on an injustice in the world. So I founded Pump It Up – a nonprofit organization focused on bringing clean water to rural villages where water is not easily available, so that villagers will not have to face the decision of either having dirty water or walking hours to get clean water. I’ve raised enough money to install a solar powered pump in Chilcapamba that will pump water from the spring into the village. The 2014 Community Service program in Chilcapamba is going to install the pump this summer as one of their primary community service projects.
How has it felt to transition from a Putney student to a coordinator for an independent project in your village? How has your Putney experience informed your current project?
My Putney experience really drove my project. What I saw and experienced in Ecuador is what I based my whole project on. You go into these trips expecting a fun summer experience, but that’s it. You don’t expect to meet all of these amazing people from all over the United States and the world who will be your best friends forever and see all of these amazing things that will impact you. But to be able to have all that and continue these relationships is beyond amazing. The knowledge that I really am working to solve a problem for people I care about, gave me the confidence to work through all the technical and other problems we had to address to make the project work.
The view from Chilcapamba.
Do you think you’ll return to Chilcapamba?
Although I won’t be headed back to Chilcapamba this summer, it feels great to know that the Putney team and my former trip leader, Jake Elliot, will handle the installation for the water pump and tanks. One day, I know I will go back to Chilcapamba. I can’t wait to see my host brother, Tupak, again, along with all of my friends from the village. After the installation of the pump this summer, I can’t wait to return and see the impact the pump has had on the village. All of the locals are so grateful for everything the Putney groups have done for them, and after living in their community for so long you truly are a part of them. In some weird way, they’re your family and you never really leave family.
What plans do you have for the summer and beyond? Do you see yourself continuing with projects such as this one?
This summer Pump It Up is installing the first pump in Chilcapamba with the help of Putney. Next year I will be starting college at Georgia Tech to study engineering and international relations, with a minor in Spanish. My experience in Chilcapamba and my project has really guided my decision as to what to study in college, and I definitely plan to take Pump It Up with me. I think that this project has so much potential to make a difference and I can’t wait to grow this organization into other villages.
What sort of advice do you have for students preparing for their first program?
I know you’ve heard it before because I’ve heard it more times than I want but you have to be open, which is one of the hardest things to be. You have to be open to meeting new people, trying new things, and stepping out of your comfort zone. Just say yes – say yes to trying the strange food your host family offers you, say yes to taking a long hike even though you may be exhausted from a day of work, and say yes to any opportunity offered to you because it’s in these moments that you choose to say yes and step out of your comfort zone that you get to have those life-changing moments that you hear people talk about. Take a chance and just go for it. I know it sounds cliché and you’re thinking that this program is just something fun to do during the summer and a good thing to write about for a college essay, because this time last year I was thinking the same thing. But if you let it be, this program can be so much more. This is your chance to do something that matters and you can make as much or as little out of this opportunity as you want, and I desperately want y’all to make the most – but you have to be willing to go for it.