There is water everywhere in Zambia: the African nation is home to the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls, and the rainy season can create flooding that makes roads impassable. However, Zambians are among the 748 million people worldwide who struggle with access to drinkable water, as a group of Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) students saw for themselves during this year’s spring break.

Each year a group of NU-Q students organise a service learning trip, their goal to raise awareness of a global issue, raise money to address the issue, and travel to see the crisis and work on local community projects.

For the 2015 trip, students choose the global water crisis, an issue that hits close to home. With no natural fresh water supply, Qatar has as little as two days of desalinated water reserves, according to the Qatar National Food Security Programme in 2012. NU-Q student and one of the trip’s organisers, Syed Owais Ali, said:

We chose the global water crisis because it resonates with us, living in Qatar. We have now raised almost enough money to provide clean water to 40 people for 20 years.’

Dean and CEO of NU-Q, Everette E. Dennis, believes experiences like this are crucial to developing a more global perspective. He said:

Service learning trips are a student initiative: they research issues, plan the trip, raise money and awareness and share their experiences with the rest of the student body. This trip to Zambia has opened their minds and it will make them better journalists and media professionals.’

While in Zambia, the students travelled to a small village to see how people struggle to get clean water. They also spent time in a school in one of the poorest parts of the African nation, teaching and helping build a new classroom. Syed Owais Ali said:

It is astonishing to see how much we achieved in such a short period of time. We plastered walls and made the floor of a large classroom and taught more than 150 students as a group. These trips allow us to understand global issues in a more complex and intimate way. This kind of learning cannot happen in a classroom setting.’

To raise money, the student group created their own campaign to raise money for Charity Water, an organisation that delivers water, sanitation and hygiene services to developing countries. The campaign was a ‘chilli challenge,’ an innovative way to get people thinking about clean water. Participants eat a hot chilli, which immediately makes them crave a glass of cold water. The group has collected videos of the challenge on their Facebook page, Qats for Zambia.

NU-Q draws from its parent organisation, Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), a distinguished history, famous world-renowned programs and an exceptional faculty. Founded in partnership with Qatar Foundation, NU-Q provides a framework through which students explore the world and learn to ultimately shape its future within the distinguished schools of communication, journalism and liberal arts.


You can also help spread awareness about the campaign by using ‘#748million’ hashtag on your social media.