BHSU graduate student uses sustainability degree to create clean water in Tanzania

Author: BHSU Communications/Tuesday, April 8, 2014/Categories: 2014

           BHSU graduate student Greg Wilson with his dog, while bicycling across the U.S. and capturing photographs of his journey. Wilson, who is in the Master of Sustainability program, is in the process of starting a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving water quality.

             Wilson is currently working  a  company that repairs and maintains wind turbines around the world. He travels all over the world to do inspections and analyses on the 300-foot wind towers.

It was after reading the book "The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind" &ndash a true story of a young African boy who built a windmill from junkyard scraps in order to help feed his village &ndash that Greg Wilson knew he wanted to work in renewable energy. But it was through his courses as a graduate student in the Black Hills State University Master of Sustainability program that he was inspired to do much more.

Wilson is in the process of starting Luminating, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving water quality for the 1.1 billion people who lack access to clean drinking water. Through his nonprofit, Wilson will design, build, install and educate people about water purification systems. His first project is near Arusha, Tanzania where nearly half of the population lacks clean drinking water.

"After reading the book, I started thinking about working in wind energy and renewable energy. I always thought it would be fun to go back into those remote communities and install a small renewable electric grid for lighting in schools and houses, but through studies I realized that I wasn&rsquot doing as much good as I thought I would be. The need went farther beyond just a light bulb."

Through his courses in sustainability, Wilson learned about the many people around the world that lack clean water. "Almost 13 percent of deaths in Tanzania are related to water and sanitation. That&rsquos 13 percent that is so easily avoidable. There is a huge need out there."

Wilson is in the process of incorporating the nonprofit  and plans to be ready for his first project in Africa by next January. He anticipates spending two months in Tanzania. "Purifying water is simple but to develop a system that is robust and one that they can understand and maintain is the difficult part. I have to learn about their culture for me to teach them anything about purifying water."  By focusing on the local culture and native materials, the water purification systems will be a sustainable solution that will provide clean water for years to come, he said.

Wilson is working with International Volunteer HQ, an organization aimed at increasing education and heightening awareness through the skills and expertise taken by volunteers to their host communities and institutions. The organization will help direct Wilson to where there is a need for a purification system such as a school or orphanage. Wilson&rsquos projects will include building a purification system and then teaching villagers how to replicate it. "The fun part of working in a school or orphanage is it gives me the opportunity to work with the kids and teach them not only about hygiene but a little about electronics and electricity and imprint on them what is possible."

Wilson is not new to sustainable living. The Beresford native grew up in the country where his family raised cows and always had a garden. "We were very efficient when it came to waste. You never know when you can reuse something."

After getting his undergraduate degree in business and working for an electronic scoreboard company for a few years, he decided to spend a year traveling. He biked across the United States starting in Atlantic City, N.J., and ending in Ocean City, Ore. He then backpacked around Australia. In both excursions, Wilson realized how little he actually needed.

He came back ready to help make a difference. "I started working in renewable industry three years ago because I wanted to make a difference in the world on top of just earning a paycheck." He started working for WindIngen, a Colorado-based company that repairs and maintains wind turbines around the world.

Wilson travels all over the world to do inspections and analyses on the 300-foot wind towers. He is currently working in the Dominican Republic. During his time with WindIngen, Wilson decided he wanted to play a bigger part in sustainability and enrolled in the BHSU graduate program.

"The program applies to almost everything. It&rsquos not so much of an industry as it is a way of thinking," he said. "I actually am learning more about environmental systems and how humans interact with the world in general."  

It was during his time as a BHSU graduate student that Wilson decided to start Luminating, Inc. He is excited to start his newest adventure and has big plans for his nonprofit.

"In two years, I hope to spend half of my time developing projects and the support and half of the time out in the field installing and teaching." In five years, Wilson hopes to have teams of people spread out around the world doing the same thing.

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