OC Professor Brings Clean Water to Philippine Villages

While many professors enjoy time off in the summer for fun and recreation, OC’s Al Mikell used two weeks to help change the future of some rural villages in the Philippines. According to Mikell, his trip was a simple example of how highly trained, spiritually motivated faculty used OC’s excellent science facilities to make a difference in the world.

Mikell, an associate professor of biology, has helped improve a bio-filter that can be used to create clean drinking water. OC professors Ryan Newberry, chair of the department of mechanical engineering and the graduate school of engineering, and Bill Ryan, professor of engineering sciences, have been an integral part of the research process behind the filter, which was first tested in labs on the OC campus.

“We want to produce filters that are safe, inexpensive and easy to maintain,” Mikell said.

While in the Philippines, Mikell worked with OC alumnus Bill Westerberg, a missionary in the city of Talisay in the Cebu province. Mikell’s home church in Luther, Okla., supports Westerberg.

“I was so blessed to have had this opportunity,” Mikell said. “The filter is what these people need. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed the people there, and I can still see their faces every day.”

Mikell also worked in the Philippines with OC alumnus and Philipino native Sal Cariaga. According to Sal, Mikell’s bio-filter saves money and lives.

“Waterborne illness is one of the leading causes of child-death and loss of productivity among adults,” Cariaga said. “Al’s water filter is organic and does not use chemicals. It is low-maintenance and very low cost.” 

Mikell worked with Sal’s staff to set up and test a generic filter using local materials. He then taught them how to duplicate his system, which will hopefully expand across the country. His trip and instruments were funded by a grant from Partners for Christian Education, a nonprofit in Oklahoma City affiliated with members of the church of Christ that helps establish Christian schools.

“I really feel that due to the prayers of so many loving brothers and sisters, we were able to get our working prototype in place,” Mikell said. “This allowed me to work out the details for a new and improved model.”

Sal also mentioned that Mikell did not hesitate to help or get dirty. One night Mikell attended a Bible study and someone became ill. Mikell helped carry the patient to the hospital and then returned to the village of Arapal to test a bio-filter he had installed earlier.

Mikell wanted to identify with the people he was helping. Therefore, he chose to stay in a grass hut without electricity or plumbing, just as many of the people in that village do every day. Mikell helped conduct Bible studies and preached in house churches and schools. He also visited a number of goat raisers in Cebu that work with the nonprofit organization Give-A-Goat.

Sal’s son, OC alumnus Peter Cariaga, founded the Oklahoma City-based Give-A-Goat, which provides a solution to poverty by giving free goats and training to impoverished families in the Philippines. Sal helps distribute the goats, and he also helps run the Arapal Children’s Home, which now uses one of Mikell’s bio-filters.

“We no longer have to purchase purified water at the goat farm or children’s home,” Sal said. “We believe that Al’s system can reduce water-borne death and disease all over the country.”

When asked about his trip, Mikell said he received more than he gave.

“I love and really miss the great people in the Philippines, who are like my family now. They live unhurried lives and appreciate the good things that God gives them. I miss their smiling faces. I have never been treated as well as they treated me.”

According to OC president Mike O’Neal, Mikell represents the best of the OC community.

“I am so grateful to work with great people like Al, who took part of his summer to help the people of the Philippines,” said Mike O’Neal. “I commend him for his servant heart.”

The trip was even more touching for Mikell because his father was stationed in the Philippines during World War II. The GI Bill allowed Mikell’s dad to attend college, which paved the way for Mikell to attend himself, ultimately becoming a biology professor.

“This trip made my dad very happy, because it was great to see God bring us full circle to the Philippines and to give back to these great people,” Mikell said. “It is so rewarding to see God’s simple plan working so dramatically with in the Church of Christ. What a glory to be a small part of this great work.”

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