A cup of clean water to drink. Eileen Connell Heasley has dedicated the last seven years to making that simple request a reality for thousands of people throughout the world.
Her mission began in 2002 when she and her husband John visited their son living in Nepal. They were appalled at the lack of clean, safe drinking water in the entire region. Her investigation into affordable technology to process water led to the BioSand filter. This low cost technology which uses no chemicals or electricity was thoroughly researched by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Eileen and John donated two BioSand filters to an orphanage in Nepal that year. That donation was far from the end of the story.
The Heasleys were trained and certified in the construction, installation and maintenance of the filter system. Back in their hometown of Troy, Mich., Eileen and John joined the Rotary Club of Troy. She and John formed a non-profit organization, A Vision For Clean Water, to raise funds to provide clean water to thousands of people. At their own expense, the couple returns to Nepal each year to continue and expand their work.
According to Audrey Chevalier, District Governor of Rotary International, through Eileen’s efforts, the Troy Rotary Club has partnered with Rotaractors (people from 18-30) in Nepal to bring clean water to homes and schools in many of the villages there. In 2004, 25 filters were donated providing clean water to more than 2,500 students. The following year BioSand filters were provided to 20 schools in Katmandu and a toilet was built for a leper community. And the list goes on. More than 10,000 children and adults in Nepal now have clean water thanks to the Heasleys. Ms. Chevalier says, “Eileen has brought Rotary International’s emphasis on water to much greater awareness than I ever thought possible.” She organized the first ever, very successful seminar for area-wide Rotarians who were interested in learning more about water issues. Her passion to bring safe drinking water to the poorest in the world is infectious. She and her husband have facilitated workshops training others who have taken their model to other developing countries. Attendees have started micro businesses in Ecuador, Mexico, Mali, Kenya, Uganda, Dominican Republic and others.
In 1995, Eileen retired from teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade in Detroit Public Schools. Soon she began training women at Gilda’s Club on using the computer. Her interest and knowledge of the field led her to produce a series for teachers called Let’s Talk Technology. She obtained the grant funds for the project and also produced a cable television, round-table program on the project. For her efforts, she was named 1999 Outstanding Technology-Using Educator of the Year by the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL).
“Marygrove influenced me to become a leader, to know that women could make a difference. I received the confidence to make my dreams real,” says Eileen. Marygrove is something of a family tradition. Eileen’s mother, Josephine Gleason Connell Bush graduated in 1931; her sister, Ann Connell Adams, in 1961.
She enjoys travel with a “purpose.” She has been to India distributing polio vaccine drops and has worked in an artificial limb camp there to provide prosthetics to polio victims. Another trip took her to Honduras to work with Peace Corps volunteers to distribute water filters. She also led a 30-day group study exchange in Thailand. In November, Eileen will head to Lebanon to visit Rotary Clubs on behalf of safe drinking water projects for villages there.
Eileen remembers Marygrove with great fondness, citing Sister Charlita Brady for encouraging her to pursue a graduate degree which she earned in 1972.