GVSU community to run for human rights

GVL / Courtesy - Dallas Rohraff
Ghanian children using oil barrel sinks

Dallas Rohraff

GVL / Courtesy – Dallas Rohraff Ghanian children using oil barrel ‘sinks’

Riley Collins

When it comes communities battling a cause, 5k run fundraisers have been known to combine healthy competition and fundraising. With this in mind, Saturday, April 8, the International Sustainability Health Education and Water (ISHEW) organization and students at Grand Valley State University will rally around issues such as human trafficking and water sustainability.

Often, these issues in particular go largely unnoticed by those who are not affected.

ISHEW is one of the teams that will participate in the GVSU “GRAND Finale 5k run/walk” on campus, proceeds from those who will run for the group will go to future ISHEW projects. These projects include crafting tools with the citizens of Ghana on constructing water transfers that shorten the gap between them and safe, healthy water supplies.

Joseph Verschaeve, president of ISHEW, believes human trafficking is one of the most intense forms of human suffering. Most people would agree, except not many know just how much people interact with human trafficking in their everyday lives and how closely it interacts with the clean water issue in countries like Ghana.

“It’s woven very tightly into our supply chain,” he said. “Every product or service that we receive—somehow we find that people are enslaved to create these products.”

For instance, he said that granite countertops, almost every clothing item manufactured in other countries and many  household products have witnessed the horrors of human trafficking during its creation.

Verschaeve, former sociology professor at GVSU’s Frederik Meijer Honors College, began his research on human trafficking in the U.S. back in 2004, but came even closer to the issue during a class study abroad trip to Ghana.

During his research in the U.S., Verschaeve identified one main root of the human trafficking epidemic: a lack of access to clean water. He said when there is no clean water nearby, women especially are endangered when they have to travel many miles to find it for themselves and their families.

“When you have water that’s not clean, people are sick and when people are sick, they’re vulnerable,” he said.

ISHEW’s mission is to increase the quality of life in participation with Ghanaian citizens using technological resources that can make clean water more available. This decreases the risk of human trafficking because people do not have to travel so far to find it. For years, the organization has relied on GVSU students to help.

Dallas Rohraff, ISHEW coordinator and president of GVSU’s Women in STEM club, is coordinating ISHEW’s participation in the 5k event, along with five other students. The goal is to raise money for products that will increase the quality of life in small Ghanaian towns where the water supply has been polluted by industrial runoff.

Before working with ISHEW, Rohraff was like many students in the U.S. who never truly see the extent of the water crises in other countries.

“I was told that’s how it was, but when you see that it’s really eye opening. You realize this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed,” she said.

One of the biggest surprises came for Rohraff when she saw how excited some of the children in one Ghanaian town became when they used soap to wash their hands before dinner. In addition, the reality hit harder when she saw people bathing, fishing and taking water for food from the same pond.

Both Verschaeve and Rohraff stress the reality of human trafficking and its relation to water crises. In addition, they believe that the best contributions to the cause come from students and volunteers.

For Verschaeve, nothing compares to the help he and his Ghanaian counterparts have received from people like GVSU professors Peter Wampler and Rick Rediske, along with passionate GVSU students.

“These are highly motivated students—the best among us, who understand the problem and are putting whatever effort they can into ameliorating the problem across disciplines,” Verschaeve said.