Alum Saves One, Saves Many, with Water

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Water. It’s something many Americans take for granted; but, in most underdeveloped countries, it is a valued resource that, in a clean form, is often difficult to attain. One Phi Theta Kappa alumnus wants to change that.

A water tank purchased through Just Save One, founded by Phi Theta Kappa alumnus Kennedy Ogoye.

Kennedy Ogoye, a 24-year-old native of Kenya and a recent Cornell graduate, founded Just Save One in 2011. Its mission is clear: develop sustainable solutions to the water crisis that has drowned many underprivileged communities.

Ogoye with Dr. Cliff L. Wood, President of Rockland Community College and a member of the Just Save One Board of Advisors

The scope of the organization’s mission is wide reaching, and providing clean water to the world’s poorest countries is no small feat. But Ogoye doesn’t see the big picture; he just sees the one person who will benefit from having clean drinking water. And seeing that one person, he says, it what makes his mission achievable.

“You always see the bigger numbers and the larger statistics, but you have to focus on the individuals,” Ogoye said. “When you personalize it, you find that you use more effort, and you try to do it with fewer resources.

“I was able to come to the United States to pursue my education. But at 22, I was comparing myself to the child back in Kenya who was not given those same opportunities. It could have easily been somebody else who got to come here. Not me.”

Ogoye moved with his parents and younger sister to New York in 2006. He enrolled at Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, in 2008. He wasn’t sure what life in America held for him, but he was drawn to science, working as a lab assistant at a local hospital and attending school at night.

Ogoye’s invitation to Phi Theta Kappa came in his third semester; he embraced his membership and began working his way through the Competitive Edge program, a professional development plan for success. He used the program to set goals and plan his next steps.

“That was the beginning of my journey,” he said. “Joining Phi Theta Kappa opened up a lot of doors. It really kept me afloat and focused on my goals. It’s an amazing system that Phi Theta Kappa has.”

Ogoye went on to be a member of the All-New York Community College Academic Team and was nominated for the All-USA Community College Academic Team in 2011.

While at Rockland Community College, Ogoye often met students who expressed interest in learning more about underdeveloped countries and ways they could help.

“I told them the major thing someone could help with is the provision of water,” he said. “The teachers in Kenya always stress that water is life.”

So, in 2010, Ogoye and some fellow students founded the Water Justice Alliance, which focused its efforts to bring water purification products to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The close proximity of the countries — and the fact that most students are already somewhat familiar with them — piqued interest and meant that more could be done with fewer resources, Ogoye said.

Following the earthquake in Haiti and the cholera outbreak that resulted, the Water Justice Alliance worked with the college and its Phi Theta Kappa chapter to send hand sanitizers to the country.

After graduating from Rockland Community College, Ogoye transferred to Cornell University to study biology. He continued his work with the Water Justice Alliance but felt led to do more.

“Once you open that box that lets people know how you feel about certain issues, it’s hard to sit back and wait for other people to do anything about them,” he said.

Ogoye learned that Cornell had a partnership with the Mbaka Oromo Primary School in Western Kenya. This school and its students — most of whom are orphans — struck a chord with Ogoye. Although he was born in the city and attended a good primary school, he chose a more rural secondary school. He was unable to adapt to the lack of food and clean water and was ultimately hospitalized.

Ogoye founded Just Save One and began work to purchase two 5,000-liter water tanks for the school. The tanks collect water during the country’s long rainy season and purify it for the students to drink. He wasn’t prepared for what resulted: the school’s enrollment swelled to nearly 700 students. And, the students began planting crops to grow their own food.

“The students had their minds set that they wanted this project to work,” Ogoye said. “They went a step further. Our main target was water, but we ended up helping in different ways based on the results we saw and the impact that the water tanks had.”

Dr. Cliff L. Wood, President of Rockland Community College, sits on the Board of Advisors for Just Save One.

“Kennedy is a wonderful, wonderful young man, and he is absolutely committed to the work he is doing,” he said. “I think supporting some of our poorest countries in the world is something great to be involved in, and it’s wonderful for our students to see that.

“And to see him continue that even after leaving here has been really, really great.”

Just Save One’s work soon gained global attention. The Clinton Global Initiative in 2012 selected Just Save One as an exemplary organization working to solve social issues. Ogoye was chosen as a candidate for the One Young World Leaders Conference 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was a Scholar Laureate to study Australian Medicine during the summer of 2012.

Just Save One continues to work with the school in Kenya, providing shoes and uniforms for the students there. By utilizing the existing relationship between the school and Cornell, Ogoye and Just Save One are able to do more with the limited resources they have. And, he is able to maintain his focus on that one individual student his work is saving.

“I was once considered a statistic,” Ogoye said. “When people talk about that ‘one,’ that ‘one’ is me.”

Right now, 1.1 billion people — 1 in 6 worldwide — do not have access to clean water; an estimated 400 million of these are children. To learn more and to help, visit justsaveone.org.