This December instead of spending Christmas at home imagine flying 20 hours across the world to help out in the aftermath of a typhoon that killed 5,600 and left over four million without access to housing. Two students from Villanova will be doing just that.

On Dec. 22, Bridget Forbes, a senior civil engineer and Kyle Johnson,  a water resources engineer graduate student, will fly out to help those affected by the typhoon that hit just a little over a month ago.

It was said to be one of the most intense tropical storms to ever hit land in the world. With rain and winds up to 195 mph and waves up to 30 feet tall, Typhoon Haiyan caused an immeasurable amount of destruction in the Philippines and relief efforts continue to be sent.

Just two weeks before the typhoon hit, Bohol was hit with another natural disaster.  A 7.2 magnitude earthquake and just as relief efforts were beginning there, they were redirected to help with the typhoon. Forbes and Johnson will work for seven days helping the relief efforts in Manila, which is eight hours south of their next destination in Kiangan.

The engineering service learning program is coordinating most of these efforts.  Students like Forbes and Johnson are involved in specific groups that meet about once a week throughout the whole semester to discuss these real world issues that the engineering students can work towards fixing it.

Other trips go to Nicaragua, Cambodia, India and more. Not every student gets to travel, but all get to work together using the knowledge they have learned in classes to fix problems that exist in those countries. Forbes and Johnson’s research team also consists of Sofia Gizzi, a sophomore mechanical engineer, Kevin So, a freshman civil engineer and Rebecca Connolly, a freshman civil engineer. Before arriving in Kiangan, the two will fly to Manila and help with typhoon relief efforts. They are working with an NGO called Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement.

They have not yet figured out exactly where they will be going, but they could be on several different islands, Cebu, Bohol or to the city hardest hit, Tabuk City.

The office they are working with in Manila will find somewhere for the two to volunteer their time.

“They are not yet in the reconstruction phase, still getting people the supplies and food that they need,” Forbes says. “The process to rebuild will take many years. They are still cleaning and getting materials out of the streets,” Johnson adds.

With their first day of service being on Christmas Eve, this year’s Christmas will be a bit different.

“The devastation of the storm is something you can’t prepare yourself for,” Forbes says. “It will definitely be a life changing experience. Just looking at images [of the typhoon] is hard to look at. The people there don’t even have the basic needs. It’s something to think about when you wake up on Christmas and open presents. There was a lot of death and destruction, yet people still see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Both Forbes and Johnson have been on trips before with the engineering service learning opportunities. Mary Helen DeMarco and Ryan Reynolds, both senior civil engineers, will join them at the project site in Kiangan.

“Our trip is really for solid waste management project in Kiangan,” Johnson explain. “They don’t have any sort of waste collection any more. The government shut down their temporary dumpsite so we do potential surveying for a sanitary landfill or other alternatives like regionalized recycling. That is what brought us [to the Philippines]. Two of us were there last winter and now with all the recent events we decided to go early this year [to help out].”

“In order to get the project approved we need the government to fund it,” Forbes explains.

So Johnson says most of what they will be doing is “more data collection and strategic planning.”

“We need to collect the data [ourselves], looking at what the waste consists of, how much of it exists and what the population is like as well,” he says. “Especially if looking at the recycling initiative, we want to know what the waste is composed of. The main problem there is plastic. It is generated in large cities and isn’t a local product so the people there have nothing to do with it.”

The group has set up a fund to help raise money for the Philippines. All proceeds will go directly to PRRM or “assist families in need that we run into along the way,” Johnson says.  Checks can be made out to Villanova University with a note to the Engineering Philippines Project and sent to Gayle Doyle in the College of Engineering.


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