MU’s Relief for Africa chapter to provide latrines and education to communities in Ethiopia this summer

Nisha Patel, MU Relief for Africa president: “We want to go into a particular community in Ethiopia, and we want to build these latrines because Ethiopia faces open defecation as one of its major concerns.”
Graphic by Sara Marquardt | Page Designer

MU’s newly formed Relief for Africa chapter is aiming to send its members to Adama, Ethiopia, this summer. The organization hopes to build latrines there that will improve public health conditions as well as educate the community on environmental pollution and personal hygiene.

RFA is a nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that seeks to better education, healthcare and living conditions for underprivileged communities in Africa. Many of its chapters are also in Michigan, which makes the MU chapter unique in its location and mission.

“The MU chapter is different because we focus on sustainability,” said Nisha Patel, president of the RFA chapter at MU. “Our goal is very, very clear: We want to go into a particular community in Ethiopia, and we want to build these latrines because Ethiopia faces open defecation as one of its major concerns. We saw the issue, and we want to fix it.”

However, funding is not easy for the new organization. It is planning to have a Valentine’s Day bake sale Feb. 13-14 and collect cans on Thursday and Friday nights, Patel said. It also hopes to organize a 5K run in the near future.

“We’re taking every avenue possible, but we are also talking to our local businesses and in contact with the Rotary Club in Columbia,” Patel said.

Stephen Jeanetta, MU chapter of RFA’s faculty advisor, touched on the possibility of reaching out to more groups in Columbia.

“[RFA’s] funding is a little nebulous at this point,” Jeanetta said. “There’s a number of groups in town they could approach that can support that kind of project as long as they feel like it’s pretty well-developed and going to make an impact.

Jeanetta is an associate professor at MU Extension whose work focuses on community development. According to Patel, Jeanetta’s experience in developing sustainable projects with students made him a great fit for RFA’s faculty advising position.

“I think it’s a neat group [that] has a lot of potential,” Jeanetta said. “I’ll do whatever I can to see them get some success out of it.”

The MU chapter of RFA’s long-term goal is to develop a strong connection with Adama while making an impact over time, Patel said. Locally, she talked about engaging citizens and students with the project, including reaching out to other student organizations.

“Since our organization particularly targets Ethiopia, we want to get different African organizations involved because a lot of them have a lot of great resources,” Patel said. “We don’t want to just go in and immediately think we can change the world. We want to understand the culture and the people.”

For Patel, RFA means more than a summer trip and community development. She sees it as an organization that “really defines you as an individual and leader.”

“It really instills that student leadership, not just in me, but in every member in RFA,” Patel said. “The fact that I'm seeing such amazing individuals come to me with these ideas and the belief that we can make our project work this summer are things I already appreciate from our organization.”

Individuals who are interested in getting involved can email the organization at or attend one of its biweekly Tuesday meetings at Tucker Hall from 7-8 pm in room 8.

Edited by Stephi Smith |

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