2 weeks ago

Alabama high schooler brings clean water to Puerto Rican hurricane victims

When Shawn Goyal learned two years ago of the desperate need for drinkable water in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, he knew he had to help.

“We were studying Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in Spanish class the fall that Hurricane Maria hit,” said Goyal, now a senior at Altamont School in Birmingham. “As I researched Puerto Rico and dug deeper, I realized how bad the need was and I wanted to do what I could for the people there.”

At the same time, Goyal was looking for a community service effort that could serve as his Eagle Scout project. That’s when he thought, “Why not make it a global project?”

Goyal decided to partner with local nonprofits that were sending disaster relief to Puerto Rico and other hard-hit areas. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham told him of the scarcity of fresh water and linked him with Uzima, a company that manufactures inexpensive, easy-to-use water filtration systems.

The beauty of the water filters, Goyal said, is they are designed to last for 10 years, require no chemicals and can filter 5 gallons of water at a time.

“The filters are awesome for families who can’t use their tap water and don’t have enough money to buy water. They have to choose between buying water or buying other necessities like food,” Goyal said. “Because the filters last for 10 years, they also offer a long-term, affordable solution for these families, and not just a short-term fix.”

Through Uzima, Goyal was placed in touch with Ricardo Ufret, who was on the ground providing aid in Puerto Rico and could distribute the filters to those who most needed them. Uzima provided Goyal with filters at a reduced price.

During the summer of 2018, Goyal sent more than 200 letters to friends and family outlining his Eagle Scout project and requesting donations. He raised $5,000, allowing him to purchase 175 water filtration units.

“The response was very heartwarming,” said Goyal. “There are a lot of good people out there. I think all people needed was to realize what was happening and what the need was, and they were more than willing to help.”

After assembling the units, Goyal shipped them to Ufret, who, with help from members of his church in Puerto Rico, distributed water filters throughout the country. Ufret has continued sending Goyal photos and videos of people using the filters.

“Mr. Ufret told me that even two years after the hurricane, he is still receiving requests from pastors across Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti,” Goyal said. “They want the filters for long-term use. They said they haven’t had clean water for over a generation. It made me see the need is still there and inspired me to do more.”

Goyal set up a GoFundMe webpage and raised enough money to buy 60 additional filters. In mid-August, just before school started, Goyal and his mom flew to San Juan for a four-day, whirlwind trip to deliver the filters.

The afternoon of their arrival, Goyal met with two Scout troops. Speaking in Spanish, he led a workshop to teach them how to assemble the filters. Then the group, in assembly-line fashion, went to work, putting all 60 filters together in less than two hours.

The next day, Goyal and some of the Scouts headed into the streets to hand out the filters.

“Some of the people were living out of their cars or camping out in the rubble,” Goyal said. “There was trash all around and mosquitoes everywhere. It was clear that they haven’t recovered from Hurricane Maria and that there was a need for water and other necessities. It was amazing to me because just 15 minutes from there was metropolitan San Juan with all its shops, high rises and hotels. If you drive just 15 minutes, it’s completely different.”

These street sessions gave Goyal the chance once again to perfect his Spanish.

“I remember when we showed up in one community, only two or three families came out at first to get the filters. And suddenly I looked up, and there was a crowd of 30 people listening to me explain how to use them,” Goyal said. “It made me sad and disappointed in myself that I never knew that people lived in these kinds of conditions in a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico.”

Goyal said he is “amazed” that as one person he could have an impact on so many lives.

“Clean water is a problem, not just in Puerto Rico. It’s a monumental problem across the world,” Goyal said. “If you look at the problem as a whole, I never would have tried to solve it. It’s too daunting. It was only after I looked back that I could appreciate what I was able to do. Even if I can’t raise enough money to send 175 filtration systems again, I can still chip away at the problem by sending just one filter at a time if I have to.”

Goyal knows his work is far from finished. He has once again set up a GoFundMe page – this time to raise money to provide water filters to the victims of Hurricane Dorian, the Category 5 storm that left devastation across the Bahamas in early September. Anyone interested in helping Goyal meet this need can contribute by visiting his Bahamas Clean Water Relief page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/bahamas-clean-water-relief.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 mins ago

Sewell: Trump tweet comparing impeachment inquiry to ‘lynching’ is ‘despicable’

Along with Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), count Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) as an ardent critic of President Donald Trump’s Tuesday tweet comparing the ongoing House impeachment inquiry to a “lynching” of him.

Trump tweeted, “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

In a Facebook post sharing a screenshot of that tweet, Sewell outlined, “From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement, 3,446 African Americans were murdered by lynching.”

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“The history of lynching in our nation is one of white supremacy, humiliation and dehumanization,” she continued.

Sewell, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, represents a district that includes Selma.

“For President Trump to liken the impeachment inquiry—a lawful investigation—to the racial terror millions of African Americans endured is despicable,” she concluded. “And for the people of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, who marched, bled and died to end this type of terrorism, the sting of the President’s words is especially sharp.”

RELATED: Rep. Sewell: ‘You don’t need a quid pro quo’ for an impeachment inquiry

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

32 mins ago

Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce launches initiative to support local startups

The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday launched a new  initiative to help boost the River Region’s entrepreneurial  ecosystem.

The new “Work Together” business studio and coworking space located at 600 S. Court Street in Montgomery will be more than just a physical space, according to a press release.

Starting in 2020, “it will also feature dynamic programming and events focused on creating a haven for makers, creatives, small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers and the community to connect, innovate, create and learn.”

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The Work Together location offers flexible space for working, training and community building that can accommodate up to 100 individuals and includes WIFI and audio-visual resources. Additional smaller spaces inside Work Together provide areas for small group or one-on-one meetings, and it also offers a conference room set-up that can accommodate up to 10 people.

The chamber announced the new initiative at InnovateMGM, a half-day event celebrating  those who are innovating within traditional and non-traditional businesses, start-ups and creative ventures.

The event served as a taste of the community building that Work Together aims to provide, which goes far beyond the limits of a physical gathering space and seeks to provide meaningful programming that empowers users to achieve their greatest potential.

In a statement, Montgomery Area Chamber Chairman Willie Durham said, “Supporting and strengthening our start up and entrepreneur community is one of our biggest priorities at the Chamber.”

“Our mission is to connect people to people and people to resources and this space allows us to do just that,” he continued. “By providing the training and the space for creatives and entrepreneurs to connect, we are enhancing our ability to build community, elevate the quality of life of the region and ensure the prosperity of our business community.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Clyde Chambliss named 2019’s ‘Outstanding Public Official’ by American Society of Civil Engineers

State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) was recently named the 2019 Outstanding Public Official by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

ASCE’s Committee on Advancing the Profession selected Chambliss to receive the prestigious national honor for “impeccable service and dedication to the State of Alabama, as well as to the civil engineering profession and land surveying professionals.”

“Instituted in 1963, the award is made to those members of ASCE who have contributed substantially to the status of the engineering profession by meritorious public service in elective or appointive positions in civil government,” Lawren Pratt, the ASCE member who nominated Chambliss for the award, advised in a statement.

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During his tenure in the Alabama Senate, Chambliss has led the effort to reform and modernize government regulations on the engineering profession. He was first elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018.

In 2018, Chambliss helped write and pass Senate Bill 316, which required Qualification Based Selection (QBS) to be included in the State Administrative Code and added two public members to the Alabama Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors.

Brad Williams, P.E., president of the Alabama section of ASCE, praised Chambliss’ leadership.

“Senate Bill 316 led to one of the strongest QBS laws in the nation; it would not have passed without Senator Chambliss’s leadership,” Williams outlined.

Chambliss and his wife, Tara, also a civil engineer, own and operate a civil engineering firm that provides engineering services to small towns, water systems and developers in central Alabama.

“Senator Chambliss’ knowledge of our profession as a practicing Professional Engineer was instrumental in how he was able to lead meetings, mediate between parties of differing interests, and educate legislative members on the importance of QBS,” Williams added.

In accepting the award, Chambliss said that he appreciated the collaboration between legislators and professionals in the engineering field that led to the passage of SB316.

“It is such an honor to be recognized by my peers and colleagues with this award. Passage of SB316 was truly a group effort, and I appreciate the work of my engineer and surveyor peers in the development of such a great piece of legislation. I also want to thank my legislative colleagues for their support in voting for the bill, and Governor Ivey for signing it into law,” Chambliss said.

Chambliss was recently named as a member of the 2019 Yellowhammer Power & Influence 40.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Byrne: How do you solve a problem like Syria?

Recent developments in Syria highlight the need for the United States to revisit its broader Middle Eastern policy.

Early last week, I joined a small meeting of House Republicans for an update on Syria from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper where he discussed a phone call from President Erdogan of Turkey to President Trump.

During that call, Erdogan notified President Trump that after years of waiting at the Syrian border, Turkish troops would finally cross over. He assured that Turkey was not coming after our troops but targeting certain Kurdish factions they consider terrorists. He gave President Trump 48 hours to relocate the two dozen or so American troops stationed on the border.

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President Trump was faced with a difficult decision. Ultimately, he decided to remove American servicemembers from harm’s way to prevent a full-blown conflict with Turkey.

Turkey’s incursion into Syria is wrong and very troubling. Erdogan should never treat our president and our country the way he did on the phone call. There will be serious consequences for his behavior.

I support seeking methods of leverage with Turkey that do not endanger our troops.

After President Trump proposed harsh economic sanctions, the administration negotiated a cease-fire with Turkey. The cease-fire has been shaky at best, but it probably prevented many more deaths in the region.

This is happening in the context of a greater strategic problem in the Middle East. For at least a decade, we’ve lacked a well-defined mission. What are our interests in the Middle East? What do we do to pursue and protect those interests?

Since coming to Congress and serving on the House Armed Services Committee, I have not seen a strategic, conventional interest for the U.S. in Syria, other than destroying the ISIS caliphate.

To be sure, Kurdish forces were the largest part of the successful campaign against the caliphate, and we need to stand by them as best we can under these challenging circumstances.

But Syria is a failed state. It is bewildering the number of groups in some form of combat. With so many factions, it is often difficult to know who the good guys are. Problems between the Turks and Kurds will persist for generations, but this dispute is one of many combustible problems in the Middle East today. Just weeks ago, Iran attacked our Saudi Arabian ally.

We need to work with our allies to determine our strategic goals and how to reach them. We should continue providing assistance to our allies, including the Kurds, but progress requires buy-in from all of our allies in the region.

Turkey, as a NATO member, does currently play a role in supporting our alliance goals. Turkey is the home of an important U.S. airbase and many other critical NATO assets including U.S. nuclear weapons.

However, Turkey’s actions cast serious doubts on whether they will honor their NATO commitments going forward, and frank discussions between Trump, Erdogan and other NATO leaders are needed.

We must be tough with Turkey. I still believe strong sanctions to weaken and punish Turkey are needed, and I signed on as an original cosponsor to Liz Cheney’s resolution to impose very tough sanctions.

After the Turkish incursion, I was disappointed that the House hastily put forward a resolution condemning President Trump’s actions without knowing the full facts. The very next day, I received a classified briefing shedding more light on his tough decision. I think everyone in Congress should have access to these classified briefings to gain a fuller understanding of what happened.

Instead of attacking the president, we need to have sincere bipartisan conversations and propose concrete solutions for Syria and the Middle East. On critical national security issues, we must put America first.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

3 hours ago

‘Shame on you’: Jones slams Trump for comparing impeachment probe to ‘lynching’

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is urging President Donald Trump to visit the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery to see “what lynching actually looks like” after the president invoked the term when complaining about the ongoing House impeachment probe into him.

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted, “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

In sharing the tweet directly, Jones commented, “No sir!”

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“No, @realdonaldtrump: this is NOT a lynching, and shame on you for invoking such a horrific act that was used as a weapon to terrorize and murder African Americans,” the senator continued.

“If you want to know what lynching actually looks like, go to [EJI] in Montgomery, Alabama,” Jones concluded.

RELATED: Jones on Trump: ‘Appears to be evidence of abuse of power’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn