by MELODIE DAVIS
Imagine traveling to Kenya over your Christmas break your senior year of high school: not for a safari or sightseeing, but to install a water filter helping the population there filter out excess fluoride in water. And what’s wrong with fluoride in water anyway?
Isaac Alderfer and six other students traveled to Africa over their Christmas break along with two teachers, as part of the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School for Environmental Science and Technology (in Mt. Jackson), one of 19 Governor’s schools in Virginia. Isaac is also a student at Broadway High School where he enjoys cross country, track and participating as president of the school’s National Honor Society, Science Club and Leader Club. He was recently WHSV-TV’s student-athlete of the week for indoor/outdoor track and cross country.
In Kenya, the students helped on some projects for Nasaruni Academy For Maasai Girls. Isaac said girls traditionally don’t go to school much beyond primary grades and are married off for a bride price—typically cattle—by the age of 13 or 14 and end up having 7 to 8 children or more. Isaac’s project was using “bone char” (dried and burned cattle bones) to create an effective filter removing fluoride from the water there—which can be dangerous for humans when consumed in massive amounts. In the U.S. of course, cities typically add fluoride to water to protect teeth but that isn’t the problem in Kenya.
Isaac also mentioned Maasai education was typically very traditional or lecture-based, rather than using group or interactive learning. The Mt. Jackson teachers took along kits to lead science experiments with “snap circuits” and Lego projects in addition to working to reduce the fluoride levels in water. The group also helped work on rooms at the boarding school where mothers can stay when they come visit their daughters.
The trip has led to Isaac searching for a college next year with a really good study abroad program. His credits through the Governor’s school mean he’ll have enough credits to be considered a second semester sophomore when he starts college, which will allow him to explore additional fields and perhaps have a double major. He especially enjoys the STEM classes he’s been taking, (with STEM standing for science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
When asked what has been the biggest influence on the path Isaac’s traveled so far, he responded, “I’d have to say the environment I’ve been brought up in, which is a shout out to my parents.” Isaac also credits his family’s ongoing involvement at Zion Mennonite Church. There Isaac enjoyed hearing varied experiences from mission workers from many countries over the years, which helped whet his interest in going to Kenya. It was his first experience of this kind in another country, “and it won’t be my last,” he plans. He also served recently on a search committee for a new associate pastor at the church, a two-year process.
Isaac’s parents are Doug and Kathy and he has one brother, Ben, a sophomore at Broadway. Isaac encourages other teens to get involved and try new things. “If you discover you don’t like it, try something else.” Good advice for anyone!
Find out more about the Nasaruni Academy at www.nasaruniacademy.org.
MELODIE DAVIS is editor of Valley Living.
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