Duo builds solutions in Africa
By TOM CAMPBELL
It wasn’t a long trip, this halfway-around-the-world jaunt in October. Just six days in Africa.
All told, landscape architecture seniors Peter Caldwell and Landon Young spent as much time in airplanes and airports getting there and getting home as they spent on the ground in Tanzania.
Six days. Less than a week to design, hire a work crew, buy supplies and build a structure that would demonstrate to the people of Kigoma the value of trees in an urban setting and how to treat water like the precious commodity it is in an area where survival hinges on the arrival of the rainy season. In a town so poor it pains the heart of visitors, these two Purdue students wanted to do something that would change lives.
Photo by Paul Zdroik
Landon Young (left) and Peter Caldwell started World Help Solutions to aid nonprofit organizations. Their first project involved building a series of erosion-control dams in Tanzania.
They found that six days in October was more than enough time to change at least a couple of lives – their own.
Caldwell has lived all over the United States but calls Syracuse, N.Y., home. Young is from Mitchell, a tiny town in southern Indiana that is the boyhood home of astronaut Gus Grissom. The two have been friends from the moment they met as undergraduates in the landscape architecture program in 2007.
To the casual observer of this relationship, Caldwell is the outgoing one with red hair and beard to match, and Young is the quiet one with dark hair, beard and glasses to match. But that’s not necessarily how Young sees it.
“I’m the talkative one,” Young said, “and Peter is just the really talkative one.”
After becoming friends with similar beliefs and goals in 2007, jobs, families and killer academic schedules put their two lives on separate but parallel paths.
Each is a father. Caldwell has two boys – Noah, 10, and Ian, 3. Young became a father for the first time in December – a girl, Lailyn.
The pair reconnected a year ago over lunch and filled in the gaps of the previous two years. Each had recently returned from service learning trips abroad. Caldwell had gone to Ecuador and Young to Uganda. Both returned to campus slightly dismayed.
“It was a great experience for both of them,” said landscape architecture department head Bob Joly. “But they both came home, and the execution of their projects kind of fell down. They wanted to do something concrete, understand a problem, engage the community – not just from the outside but integrally – to find a solution and to see it through to the completion.”
Caldwell said they both had “great experiences abroad, but we were both disappointed neither of our projects got completed in the time we were there.”
Explained Young: “We designed the projects in the U.S., but when we got overseas, we found they weren’t always sustainable because you don’t always have the same resources available that you have at home.”
“We wanted to do something that takes into account local resources, both in materials and in people,” Caldwell added.
So over lunch, they vented a little and dreamed a lot.
“We’re doing this all wrong,” Caldwell told Young. “The trip was fulfilling and the class was great, but I left Ecuador with nothing but plans. Whether or not the project ever got completed, I can’t really say for sure.”
Then and there they planted the seeds for the Alpha Chapter of World Help Solutions. As founders, Caldwell and Young would aid non-profit organizations in developing countries around the world by providing design work by students under the guidance of faculty and professionals.
“It’s a remarkably mature approach,” Joly said. “I applaud them for wanting to do something substantive to help people. They have a very solid service-to-others ethic.”
Solutions are based on readily available resources and include meeting with clients, consulting with experts and testing possible solutions, Young said.
What Joly found interesting was that the initial idea for the project bubbled from the two students – not a faculty member.
They even recruited an intern, Lauren Trepanier, a Purdue sophomore in agricultural and biological engineering from Zionsville, Ind., who spent 8-10 hours a week last summer researching water purification systems that did not require boiling.
“Working with World Help Solutions was a great learning experience for me,” said Trepanier, who hopes to go on a trip to Colombia this summer to apply what she learned with WHS.
“I’ve learned so much more about the mechanics of water purification and design and how it can help improve the quality of life in a developing community.”
The first step for Caldwell and Young was to find a place that would benefit from their expertise, energy and heart.
“That was easy,” said Caldwell. “You can throw a dart just about anywhere on a map of the world and find poverty, someplace that needs help.”
They chose the poorest place in one of the poorest nations in the world: Kigoma, a city of 135,000 people on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in central Africa.
Caldwell had seen a presentation in 2009 by Mary Schott (see Alumni Profile: Mary Schott story) on behalf of Trees for Tanzania, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping ease the burden of poverty caused by deforestation. Caldwell met Schott the next day. Schott, Trees for Tanzania and its parent company, Joy in the Harvest, seemed like an ideal first client for WHS.
“When they offered to help with any aspect of my project, it was like Christmas Day,” Schott said. “Since one of the five main objectives of Trees for Tanzania is to create parks and gardens, I thought that would be a good fit for them. We want to create areas where the people of Kigoma can rest and relax. Life is so hard there, and we want to encourage them to see plants for their value beyond survival.”
It not only fit the mission of Trees for Tanzania, but it was also a good fit for Purdue’s International Programs in Agriculture.
“We need to make sure what we do fits into the plans of the foreign locations and provides opportunities they would not normally have, the same way it provides our students opportunities,” said Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, director of IPIA. “And this certainly seems to fit every one of those criteria.”
They would build a park, something the locals could enjoy. But within its confines, Caldwell and Young would build components that would teach them the benefits of urban forestation to stop soil erosion as well as show them ways to purify water without using wood fires to boil away impurities.