Rita Goyal thought her son Shawn, a student at The Altamont School, was going to just “check the box” when he was looking for an Eagle Scout project in 2017.
There were all sorts of offers. Fix a fence. Paint lines for a municipal tennis court. Build a bench.
“As a mom, I was like, just do something easy, get it over with, check the box and move on. Shawn is quiet and introspective. I did not know what he was thinking,” said Rita.
In the fall of 2017, Hurricane Maria, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Shawn declared to his mom, “I think I’m going to do something for Hurricane Maria victims.”
Her reaction, “I thought… what can you do there? That is a huge challenge. I was a “wet blanket.”
Undeterred, initially, Shawn’s idea was to coordinate with Birmingham nonprofits providing aid to the hard-hit countries.
Through the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Shawn was introduced to the company Uzima, which produces inexpensive water filters that last 10 years, require no chemicals and can filter five gallons of water at a time.
“After these conversations, a new idea was born. I had the opportunity to provide a long-term solution to affordable, clean water rather than a short-term fix,” said Shawn.
Over the next two years, Shawn created 175 water filtration units that were assembled in Alabama and shipped to communities in Puerto Rico and countries throughout the Carribean and Latin America, including Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.
Learning More Than a Language at Altamont
Shawn’s interest in Puerto Rico and the region was sparked by discussions in his upper level Spanish class at The Altamont School.
“I didn’t realize that Altamont students learn not just a world language, they also study all the areas of the world that speak the language. In Shawn’s case – Spanish,” added Rita.
“They are digging deep. Not just superficial facts. They learn about what it is like to live there, the people, cultures, geography and current events. Meanwhile, Shawn was absorbing all that in class. It got the wheels turning.”
Beyond Eagle Scout Project
Shawn successfully completed his Eagle Scout project last fall, but he continues to stay in touch with the people using the water filtration systems—orphanages, remote mountain villages, communities with no infrastructure in place.
“I was even able to speak on the phone with people who had received my filtration systems to understand the difference that having access to clean, affordable water made in their lives. It inspired me to do more,” he said.
In the summer of 2019, Shawn started a Go Fund Me page to buy additional filters. By mid-August, just before school started, he had enough money to purchase an additional 60 filters. He and his mom then traveled to Puerto Rico, where she saw her son in action speaking entirely in Spanish, teaching volunteers how to assemble the water filtration systems.
Improving the Fabric of Society
Rita Goyal gives the The Altamont School credit for inspiring her son Shawn to take what he has learned in the classroom and apply that knowledge to better his community and the world.
“One of my favorite things about the school is that it really lives it’s mission statement… compassionate, well educated, innovative and prepared students that will contribute, impact and improve the fabric of society.”
Fifteen of Shawn’s filters are now in the Bahamas. “The global impact to improve society expands,” Rita proudly concluded.
The Altamont School Open House on Sunday, October 20
To learn more about The Altamont School, register for their upcoming Open House on Sunday, October 20, 2:00 p.m. Tour the grounds, learn about the school’s programs and curriculum, and meet current teachers, parents, administrators and students.
And if you would like to support Shawn’s efforts to bring water filters to the Bahamas, visit his GoFundMe page.