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Afghanistan as water world

Stephanie Solstis, USC Marshall student and a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, spearheaded the effort to raise money for water filters and transported them to Afghanistan. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Marshall School of Business)

In small, remote villages in the mountains of Afghanistan, people benefit each day from the entrepreneurial drive of MBA students at the USC Marshall School of Business.

Stephanie Soltis and her classmates developed a plan to provide rural Afghanistan with water filters, essential for clean water in places without central water sources, after a site visit to Hurley, where they initially went to learn about career options.

Hurley, an outdoor lifestyle brand that focuses on surfing, skateboarding, music and art, has partnered with the nonprofit Waves for Water program to provide filters to people in need throughout the world. The program was initially established to have surfers take filters to various corners of the world during their international travels.

Soltis, a surfer, a reserve major and a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, periodically flies C-17 cargo planes to Afghanistan on missions to support troops. She knew that she would be flying to Afghanistan in December and offered to take some filters for distribution to complement her mission.

“There aren’t waves there, but there is clearly a need for clean water,” said Soltis, who has flown about 260 combat missions during her service in the Air Force.

Soltis and fellow MBA students immediately began a short-term fundraising drive to purchase filters for the people of Afghanistan. Their initial goal was to raise enough money to purchase 20 filters; in a few days, they had raised enough money to purchase 32 — enough to provide clean water to more than 3,200 people for up to five years.

“It’s tough asking people for money around the holidays, especially college students,” Soltis said. “It was amazing to see how my fellow Trojans rose to the occasion and contributed to this cause.”

With the small, portable water filters in a backpack, Soltis headed to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in late December. Then, in a testament to the power of networks, she connected with a college classmate and A-10 pilot who coordinated with the U.S. Army units that his squadron supports and Air Force security forces patrols to distribute the filters in villages.

The experience was uplifting for Soltis, who saw how the power of the USC Marshall network could be mobilized to address real needs in the world.

She wrote to her classmates soon after she returned from Afghanistan: “I can attest from the ground level that you can and should feel very good about the fact that you very directly helped people in need. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this amazing Trojan Family than I am right now. You are truly exceptional people and being associated with you is a gift and honor.”

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