Abigail Brown has always loved water in any form – snow, rivers, thunderstorms, oceans. She swam in local creeks as a child growing up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where she developed a passion for the outdoors and the environment. She started working in water resources as an educator of watershed issues in the Tennessee Valley.
Her eyes were opened when, as an undergraduate at The Evergreen State College, she went to Central America to study sustainable agriculture and forest restoration techniques.
“I started to think more globally after that trip,” she says. “I became interested in developing countries, in the global economic system, and in understanding whether people could care about the natural environment if they were unable to meet their basic needs.”
Now Brown, a master’s student at Oregon State in water resources policy andmanagement with a minor in women’s studies, is taking that international perspective to a new internship in India. She will be working with Arghyam, a Bangalore-based organization dedicated to financing, evaluating and supporting water projects throughout the country. Brown will be heading to two villages in the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu to qualitatively evaluate water and sanitation projects for gender equity.
Gender equity, though, is complex. “It’s more than just looking at whether women or men have access to water and sanitation systems,” says Brown. “It’s asking, ‘Which men? Which women?’ Specifically, I’ll be looking at class, race, ethniity, income, wealth, religion and caste differences. All of these things affect who has access to water or sanitation resources, and who can participate in the planning or management of these systems.”
Brown is used to talking to people in their communities about water. She spent her first year at Oregon State as a Sea Grant Fellow developing a groundwater education and measurement program for a small community in the Eola Hills northwest of Salem.
“It was a great experience. I was able to collaborate with the Oregon Water Resources Department, a state agency that focuses on policy and regulation, and Oregon Sea Grant, an institution firmly based in education, research and outreach,” Brown says. “But the best part was getting to work with community members who were interested in protecting their groundwater supplies.”
Brown plans to use the data she collects from the case studies in India for her master’s thesis. But even more than that, she wants the information to be useful to Arghyam and others. “I’m really thankful for this opportunity. I feel very privileged to have access higher education and to be able to participate in such a meaningful internship this fall,” she says.
Brown has been keeping a blog, Water for the Ages, since 2007, when she was a water right permit writer in Washington. The blog’s focus is international water issues, and Brown will be updating it throughout her 4 months in India. Also check out her YouTube channel for new video posts.