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Agriculture and life sciences graduate crowdsources water

Franck Onambélé in Oyak, Cameroon

Franck Onambélé '14 takes a selfie in Oyak, Cameroon, the first day his community had access to water from the construction of a well pump and fountain thanks to his H2O Solidarity project.

Franck Onambélé '14 chose a faraway internship location very close to his heart: his childhood home of Oyak, Cameroon. Over winter break of his senior year, the international agriculture and rural development major traveled to the impoverished town he had grown up in until 2005, when he and his family moved to Toronto, Canada. It was exactly as he had left it: a community full of strength and spirit, but lacking in basic needs such as clean, safe water.

"Water is life, and seeing people without access to clean water brought back memories from years ago," he says. "I was once one of them, and I never had the chance to meet someone to help me with this necessity for living."

Returning to Cornell, Onambélé decided he would become that change-making person himself. He started a campaign called H2O Solidarity through Indiegogo, an online crowdfunding platform, with a goal of raising $5,000 toward the construction of a well pump and fountain for the Oyak community. A sponsor had committed to raising an additional $3,000 once the initial goal had been met.

Franck Onambélé tastes water from the fountain

Franck Onambélé tastes water from the fountain for the first time. Photo: provided.

Begun in March, H2O Solidarity reached its goal in May. "I feel blessed about the support that I received because when I started the project I was not affiliated with any association," Onambélé says, referring to the critical support and partnership he received from Cornell's Public Service Center.

"The beginning was hard, but in the end, people knew about the project and were willing to help and donate," Onambélé adds. Student organizations also contributed in creative ways. Students Onto Scholars (SOS), for example, held "Art for Oyak," a one-day art exhibition and auction at Willard Straight Hall in support of H2O Solidarity.

workers install concrete pipes in Cameroon

Workers install concrete pipes in Oyak, Cameroon, as part of the H2O Solidarity project. Photo: provided.

Next month, Onambélé plans to launch a second fundraising campaign for a second well in the same region. "I will go back to Cameroon this winter to continue what I started. My target is $8,000, and I need a lot of support," he says.

"My long-term goals involve working in developing countries so that I can continue to learn, take on greater responsibilities, and contribute as much as possible to the growth of rural communities."

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