Washington column for Aug. 14

Making a difference in Bolivia

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” — Robert F. Kennedy

Everyone can make the difference in his or her town — or one can be especially creative and think about how to make the world a better place. Such was the case for Washington’s Sean Knick II, who journeyed to Bolivia recently as part of the Engineers Without Borders program.

More than a dozen Virginia Military Institute (VMI) cadets, along with students from Lexington’s Washington and Lee University, experienced life on another continent when they traveled to Pampoyo, Bolivia from May 18 to June 10.

Sean Knick kept himself busy in Bolivia laying bricks for the latrines.
Sean Knick kept himself busy in Bolivia laying bricks for the latrines. Courtesy photo

The trip was sponsored by the VMI chapter of EWB, whose members devote themselves to community development design and create sustainable engineering projects throughout the United States and often in third-world countries. Some of the sights seen served as stark reminders that life in a developing country can be brutally hard.

The cadets and students worked together to design and implement sustainable engineering, medical, environmental and economic projects to help impoverished communities become healthier and more self-sufficient.

One of Bolivia’s main problems is sanitation, due partly to its geography as a landlocked and extremely mountainous South American country. Specifically, Pampoyo’s sanitation problems are due to the poor safety and environmental practices of a now-abandoned silver mine five miles upstream. With no means of proper sanitation practices, Pampoyo is dangerously unhealthy. A study done by EWB three years ago determined that 70 percent of all children born were stillborn.

Countless hours and much hard work by the cadets and students produced 16 eco-latrines and more than 50 happy people who now have the ability to sustainably provide themselves and their families with a cleaner, more sanitary way of life.

Sean Knick with his new godchildren, Arimar, 6, and one-year-old Camilla.
Sean Knick with his new godchildren, Arimar, 6, and one-year-old Camilla. Courtesy photo

Sean’s main focus was assisting the locals in bricklaying and concrete pouring. In a matter of days the latrines began to take shape. After the foundations and walls were done, Sean switched his focus to roofing and plumbing. While working in the village, he lived within the community, “comfortably housed” in the local adobe-style meeting building. With the cold winter nights, the shelter provided adequate cover from the snow and wind.

In an interview last week, I asked Sean if he was afraid of becoming sick himself while there. “I was raised — and still am taught — at VMI to help anyone and everyone no matter the risks; it is our duty as citizen-soldiers to provide others with the same opportunities we were blessed with growing up,” he replied.

“While there, we were treated like kings,” Sean said. With two hired women from the village, the group never left the cookhouse hungry. He said he quite enjoyed the cuisine; his favorite meal was ground llama meat over spaghetti, with a side of potatoes.

Sean was also asked to be a godfather, and didn’t hesitate. He spent every day he wasn’t working with Arimar, 6, and Camilla, 1. “I was fortunate enough to attend their baptism. I bought Arimar a black suit and tie and Camilla a white baptism dress. Those two kids mean the world to me. I will do everything and anything for them. They are family now.”

He even brought toys for the kids; the Barbie dolls were a huge hit for the girls. One girl’s mother cried as he gave the daughter a doll. It was quite the humbling experience, Sean said.

While in Bolivia, Sean had to maintain a daily journal and was required to write a preliminary design report for implementation of his in-country design, as well as a final reflective essay. His third year at VMI begins Aug. 31.

Sean is the son of very proud parents Sean and Debbie Knick of Washington, and the grandson of Clyde M. Pullen of Washington, and Wayne and Linda Knick of Lexington.

French classes

Do you enjoy speaking French? Why not join Rappahannock County’s French conversation group? They welcome other French speakers of all levels to join them, whatever their French connection. The group meets every Friday at 1 p.m. at Stonyman Gourmet, for a little light lunch and casual conversation. The next meeting is tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 15).

Trinity news

Trinity Episcopal Church is looking forward to its annual church picnic at 4 p.m. this Sunday (Aug. 17) at the Rappahannock County Park. (Food will be served at 5.) Fried chicken will be provided and everyone is asked to bring a side dish or dessert. For more information, call 540-675-3716.

Lyme disease presentation

The Rappahannock County Health Department welcomes Warrenton pediatrician Dr. Joshua Jakum for a presentation on pediatric Lyme disease at 7 p.m. at the Washington fire hall (10 Firehouse Lane). Dr. Jakum will discuss health risks and treatments for Lyme disease, and what to do if your child gets bitten by a tick.

The presentation takes place at the same time as the regular meeting of Boy Scout Troop 36, led by scoutmaster Roger Pierson. The public is welcome to join the entire meeting (beginning at 7) or arrive at 7:15 p.m. for the Lyme disease presentation only. For more information on the presentation, call 540-675-3516.