Distinguished Alumni Award

karen alum mag photoDigging deep for others

Since retiring 16 years ago, Karen Collier Flewelling, a longtime high school physical education teacher and field hockey coach, has gained some unique insight into the best way to promote education for children in the developing world.

Her recommendation: Dig a well.

Or maybe buy a goat.

“We all know education is the key, and by drilling wells, we give girls an opportunity to get that education,” said Flewelling, noting that young women in many rural communities in Africa and South America are expected to carry water over long distances; a back-breaking, time-consuming task that takes away from time they could devote to studies.

Flewelling, who has dedicated her retirement years to humanitarian efforts that carry her around the globe, puts action behind her words.

To date, Flewelling has drilled or repaired 32 wells in remote, arid lands while funding 10 cisterns and 34 water filters. She has brought food to hungry families in South America and delivered vital medical supplies to children in Asia. She made possible the purchase and delivery of scores of goats in Tanzania, soccer balls and school supplies in Nepal, and smokeless stoves in El Salvador.

In all, the former physical education major has made 20 separate trips from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to 14 developing countries since 2005.

“I am a one woman show,” said Flewelling, who pays for her own airfare, lodging and food when she travels on service trips. All donations she collects go to The Community Foundation of the Greater Capital Region, which supports her initiatives. “I go to the countries to make sure the money is going where it should be,” she said.

Flewelling documents her latest volunteer work on the website, drillingforhope.org, and has written a book,Drilling for Hope: One Woman’s Work to Provide Clean Water, to support future trips.