A year after our Envisaj Mercy team went on the "mother of all biogas tours", a faculty-led service learning expedition to Israel and Palestine, visiting Eco-gas Isreal and the Palestinian Wildlife Society and introduced our Solar CITIES IBC/ARTI hybrid biodigester to the Green Apprenticeship Program in Kibbutz Lotan, we found ourselves on a "student-led" service learning expedition in the Dominican Republic where several of our Envisaj Mercy club members have family. In San Francisco de Macoris we built our first Hestia Home Biogas system from cinder block and EPDM pond liner. In Monte Plata at the Batey Relief Alliance for Haitian refugee workers we built the Mercy College/Solar CITIES designed variant of the IBC/ARTI hybrid, proving that research done at Mercy College can find an effective home in the real world when research is coupled with service learning.
Envisaj takes Biogas to the places it is needed most!
For the past two years in a row, Mercy College students in the Envisaj Mercy Club (the Mercy Environmental Sustainbility and Justice League student club) have been travelling the world observing and building small scale biodigesters, bringing technologies they help develop and work on at school to communities in need as part of the "Faculty Led Study Abroad" program.
The initiative started with Dr. Thomas Henry Culhane's research in Room 304 of the Main Hall of the college, a small laboratory room in Mercy College where student research assistants and Envisaj Club founder Jarrod Britt (former National Guard serviceman in Afghanistan) built two of Culhane's signature Solar CITIES International Bulk Container (IBC) based biogas reactors to prove that home biogas could be effectively and safely done inside the home. With the results of these experiments they then built two other digesters in and around a shed near the parking lot that had no running water or electricity and improved the design for remote locations facing similar challenges.
In the Winter Break of 2013 Culhane led Dominican Republic born student and club president Abigail Franco and St. Kits Island born vice president Tasheem Hall, with Jamaican born Mercy Model UN student Shamir Hyman, as well as New York born psychology student Lauren Lipp and her mother Michelle Casper Lipp and Brazilian-Israeli student Leo Adler to Israel and the West Bank, Palestine on what was called "the Mother of all Biogas tours". They visited home and university biogas systems built around the country by the company Eco-Gas Israel, founded by Culhane's friend Yair Teller, and visited household biogas systems built by Culhane with the US Embassy and the Palestinian Wildlife Society in the West Bank. At then end of the trip, after exploring biogas research at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Lotan, Envisaj Mercy students and faculty joined students at the Kibbutz Lotan Eco-Village and introduced and built the new design they had perfected at Mercy College as part of the Eco-Village's international Green Apprenticeship Program.
Club president Abigail Franco, enthusiastic about the promise and possibilities for home scale biogas to alleviate poverty, deforestation and health problems, became determined to bring this kind of service learning to her native Dominican Republic. Back at Mercy College she and Shamir organized several other students, many from the Dominican Republic and Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean facing environmental degradation and disease that could be mediated through biogas technology, and planned the second Faculty Led Service Learning trip to the DR.
As he own schedule began to conflict with the logistics, the Mission was picked up by fellow Dominican Republic native Martha Perez who is in both Envisaj and the Model UN with Shamir Hyman who had been on the Middle East trip. They helped create an itinerary for the Carribiean trip that involved the building of three different biogas systems in two different locations on the island. They were joined by Envisaj creative director, Indian born student Shivani Mistry, Ukrainian born Model UN student Oksana Gapyuk, US born Mercy Psychology student Jarod Zacharowicz, and US born Homeland Security Student William Gallicano, all of them students in Culhane's Psy 295 Psychology of Environmental Sustainabiity and Justice Class. They were also joined by Culhane's wife and former Mercy Adjunct Professor Dr. Sybille Culhane and two children, 6 year old Kilian and 2 year old Ava.
Martha arranged for the entire group to stay with her family members and friends in the low income area of Boca Chica and in a villa in the northern countryside, and got a local family friend, Gringo, to join the team as guide, driver and construction expert.
After procuring supplies with Gringo in the city, Martha's friend Tesori Alvarez welcomed Envisaj to her home and put everyone up and fed the group. provided the materials and hired expert mason and construction engineer Julio and his son to help the Mercy students create a home biodigester in a new style that the club had never experimented with before, making the service learning trip a unique way to do in the field learning of new material. Martha had selected the Hestia Home Biogas style of home digester because of advantages to families where a food grinder is not available, and had directly contacted and received help from inventor/designer Warren Weisman who had visited Mercy College in November of 2013 as part of Culhane's speaker series on Environmental Science. When they learned that some materials needed for this design were not available in the Carribean, Martha and fellow student William Gallicano brought down things such as Uniseals and the necessary 4 millimeter EPDM pond liner cover material from New York, which William purchased and donated to the project. This demonstrated the initiative and dedication to service that defines Mercy students.
At the end of our service learning trip to the Dominican Republic Envisaj Mercy students and Solar CITIES co-founder T.H. Culhane introduced the IBC/ARTI hybrid system to the Batey Relief Alliance Center for AgroPecuaria. This system was created in a remote location on a pig farm without easy access to running water and electricity and proved the real world efficacy of the system Mercy students had worked on on campus simulating the needs of citizens of Developing Regions. The students met the challenges of constructing systems out of local materials and showed proved the skills they are developing in the Model UN and international relations classes by involving locals and helping train them while honoring their local expertise, all done in a foreign language (Spanish).
Mercy's Envisaj Faculty Led Study Abroad program has proven itself over the past two years to be a most effective bridge between academics and real world application -- a true example of PRAXIS -- the nexus between theory and Practice. We look forward to many more service learning trips in the future.