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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 6 months ago

West Orange grad works with Peace Corps to bring water system to The Gambia

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Rehan Khan, a 2008 West Orange High graduate, currently is serving with the Peace Corps in The Gambia, where he hopes to bring a reliable water system.
by: Danielle Hendrix Black Tie Editor

Where West Orange High graduate Rehan Khan currently lives, there isn’t a reliable source of clean water. Sometimes, his village goes without clean water for weeks.

That’s why Khan, a Peace Corps volunteer living and working in The Gambia, is so passionate about building a solar-powered tap system so his community never has to worry where its clean water will come from.

In his undergraduate career at the University of Florida, Khan studied microbiology and cell science, as well as physics. But when he began his foray into medical school, he knew his heart was ultimately in joining the Peace Corps. 

“Medicine is something I never really had my whole heart in and I didn’t truly enjoy it,” Khan said. “Being in medical school, I also knew I would never be able to join the Peace Corps like I wanted to. During my second year, I made my decision to leave medical school and apply to work with the Peace Corps.”

 

THE PROJECT

He’s now been with the Peace Corps in The Gambia for a year and is heading into his second. His plan is to extend for another year to work with the World Food Program, but currently he lives in a small village, teaching English, computer skills and math at an all-girls school in a city near the village. 

And although he also loves promoting gender equality and working with agriculture and malaria control, he is close to his goal of funding the tap system for his village.

“The total cost of the project is a little over $10,000, and the funds are coming from a number of different areas,” he said. “The U.S. Government’s Let Girls Learn program is donating a small amount, Water Charity is donating around $5,000, and the rest of the money will be collected from friends and family through an online website.”

His village’s water source is powered by a government-powered grid system, but it is extremely inconsistent. The tap system is supposed to provide water to the village in the mornings and evenings, but system failures have caused the village to go without water for more than two weeks on multiple occasions. 

When this happens, students have to leave school early because of the lack of water, and people begin drinking from uncovered wells, which leads to increased cases of diarrhea throughout the community.

Upon completion, the solar-powered tap system will feature a borehole well, three taps at major junctions throughout the community, four solar panels and one 4,000-liter water tank. 

 

PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP

West Orange High graduate Rehan Khan, center, loves having a positive impact on the lives of people in The Gambia.

Even with a lack of reliable water system and electricity, Khan can’t help but notice the Gambians’s happiness and zest for life.

“They may not have the luxuries we have being American, but they’re even happier than Americans are,” he said. “They may not have electricity, a consistent source of clean water, medicine and nutritious foods but they enjoy this thing called life unlike anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many countries, and out of all the countries I’ve ever been to, Gambians are the nicest people I’ve ever met. 

“Anytime they’re eating, they always call you over to join them for a meal,” he said. “They always greet you and make sure you’re welcome and comfortable in their country. They even treat each other with much respect.”

In fact, although Gambia is one of the poorest countries in Africa, Khan said you won’t find any homeless people in the villages or cities because anytime someone is in need, a fellow Gambian will take him or her in.

One of the most rewarding parts of living in Gambia, Khan said, is seeing the positive impact he’s having on people’s lives.

“People love how open I am and can see that I truly enjoy being here, which is a valid assessment,” he said. “I even had a child in my village named after me, Rehan Drammeh, which was a special honor. I know I have had an impact on the people in my community, but it doesn’t really feel like I’m doing much. The truth, however, is that the Gambian people have changed my life more than I could ever change theirs. 

“I always feel loved and welcomed no matter where I go in the country,” he said. “They have changed my life by showing me how I should treat a stranger and foreigner to their country. … After my experience here in the Peace Corps, my life is never going to be the same. I want to continue doing work like this for the rest of my life.”

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