As President Obama calls for a 'civilian surge' to aid in the development of Afghanistan, a group of Penn State Brandywine undergraduate students found a way to support direct help to the Afghan people. After meeting alumnus Aldo Magazzeni, of Perkiomenville, who has spent years traveling to Afghanistan building village water systems, they raised $6,000 to support his efforts in Herat over the summer.

It was Phyllis Cole's Women's Studies 400 class that came up with the idea to raise the money by asking everyone on the campus to donate just $3.50 beginning last spring after learning from Magazzeni that a water system costs on average $7,000.

"We had an unusual chance to change the world," senior Dana Gibson, of Morton, said thoughtfully about the project.

They presented Magazzeni with a check for the funds last May during the campus' annual Alumni Recognition dinner, where he was recognized as an outstanding alumnus. He put the money to work immediately.

Phyllis Cole (far left), of Lansdowne, and three students from her women's studies class, (from left) alumna Andrea McLaughlin, of Chester; senior Dana Gibson, of Morton; and senior Tiffany Lynch (far right), of Philadelphia, presented alumnus Aldo Magazzeni, of Perkiomenville, with a check for $6,000 to help bring clean water to thousands in Afghanistan.

Over the summer, Magazzeni installed three village water systems that will provide clean water for 2,000 families (or 15,000 people, two-thirds of them children). "These families in the outskirts of Herat actually had no unpolluted water source," said Cole, professor of English, women's studies and American studies at the campus.

"While building the systems, [Magazzeni] spoke in mosques and high schools and used the campus' campaign as his best example of the people-to-people work behind the money," she said.

Magazzeni also supplied new enhancements for a women's shelter created by Afghanistan's leading women's rights advocate Suraya Pakzad, who visited the campus last March. The women received a TV/DVD player, at their special request, a juicer-blender for the kitchen and water for two women's restaurants where even the most veiled wives can meet and talk with one another.

"We can help improve the lives of others through our continued efforts for their better health," Magazzeni said in a letter to the campus. "Most importantly, we also are building bridges for world peace, as different cultures learn to respect, honor and better understand one another."

For his return to the country this month, Magazzeni is planning a school-related water project that will have the Penn State Brandywine name on a plaque and will celebrate the educational tie. The project will supply clean water to a school in the Panjsher Valley of northeastern Afghanistan.

"This is a more dangerous and war-impacted territory," said Cole, of Lansdowne. "The school is being built by U.S. Army-affiliated community development staff, but the water system supplying it will be separate in both funding and construction. Kids will be kept healthy with pure water and educated at the same time."

Because of Magazzeni's efforts and the donation he received from the students, the campus received a signed certificate of thanks from Herat's director of Water Supply and Sanitation.

Senior Tiffany Lynch, of Philadelphia, summed up the experience. "It feels good that just a few coin cans, pocket change, and generous souls can give a whole village water."

Magazzeni is founder and director of Traveling Mercies, "a non-profit foundation dedicated to helping others, while creating a vehicle to remove barriers between cultures so that individuals can share their strengths, assets and blessings with each other." The foundation is based in Lumberton, N.J.

For more information on Traveling Mercies, visit