Helen L. Sayegh
Grade 5, Winsor School, Boston
Dreams Can Come True
Excerpts from a speech delivered by Helen L. Sayegh at the opening of a new water treatment facility in Beirut, Lebanon
"As an engineer, I am proud to present Beirut's new water treatment plant designed by my associates and me for the people of this great country to which I and my family are indebted. After many hours of hard work studying the landscape, selecting this location, and planning, my efforts have come to create this plant, probably the best treatment plant I have ever built. I never thought that my job as an engineer could be so crucial to society and so important that I would be responsible for improving the health and wellbeing of my family and friends every day. After obtaining advanced education in the U.S., I never believed that I would be given the opportunity to return to my home country of Lebanon and be responsible for providing fresh drinking water to my fellow citizens. As an engineer, it is my job to create places for water treatment, just like the MWRA Deer Island Wastewater Plant and the Carroll Water Treatment Plant, both of which I was lucky enough to visit during my graduate studies. Seeing all the work I have done here and in other parts of the world reminds me of my childhood and why I decided to become a civil engineer in the first place.
Let me share my story with you. As young as five years old, I remember hearing my mother, father, and brothers waking in the middle of the night. They never woke me up and I sometimes wondered what they were up to. But this time was different -- this time, my parents crept into my room and whispered to each other in hushed tones. "Do you think she is old enough?" my mother said. "Yes, I think it is time." replied my father. I surprised them both by getting out of bed and saying, "Time for what?" My parents quickly explained to me that we lived in a part of the world where fresh drinking water did not come every day. The drinking water we got only came once or twice a week and we would have to collect it for the few hours that it ran out of the faucet. If you did not collect it, you would not have fresh drinking water for many days. That night, I was the one who stayed up to collect it, carefully switching bottles and carefully filling each one to its fullest. Each of us took our turns doing this for many years. But it was during these times that I decided that I wanted to do something about the long and tedious hours of work of filling bottles with fresh water. I could only dream of turning on the faucet for a glass of fresh drinking water. That is when I decided that I wanted to make a difference for the next generation.
I spent many hours studying in school as I wanted to become the best at what I would do.
After finishing high school and college in Lebanon, I had figured out that I wanted to be a civil engineer as they would be involved with the design of the water treatment facility from start to finish. If I wanted to make a difference, why not design the treatment plant myself? As I began my graduate studies in the U.S., I knew I had made the right choice as I became more excited every day. I studied everything about wastewater management, reservoirs, and water treatment facilities. I learned that not only engineers contribute but that it really is a team who works.
Upon graduation, I took a job in a private company and they sent me all over the world.
At first, I worked closely with other engineers to select the site and design the plants. I would spend many hours studying the different landscapes to determine the best layout for the treatment plant. It was only just two years ago that my dream of fresh drinking water for the citizens of Lebanon came true. After placing a bid to be the company to build this great plant, my company was selected and I was chosen to lead the team to design and build this plant.
Upon my return to Beirut, I was amazed at the amount of trash being thrown down storm drains and causing backup of the sewers. I knew that in order to increase the drinking water supply, I would need to find a suitable site for another wastewater plant as well as a large reservoir to collect water for purification. I felt confident that I could use my skills to solve these problems and make the lives better for everyone living in the city.
I studied the landscape and spent many hours selecting the correct site and then began sketching the layout of each of the components of the two plants:
1) wastewater treatment facility including pumping stations, grit chambers, clarifiers, disinfecting basins, effluent discharge paths, odor control stations, and sludge and scum digestion and
2) water treatment facility including a large reservoir, disinfection chambers using ozone gas bubbles and chloramines to ensure that the water does not become infected as it travels through long pipelines, zones for pH adjustment using sodium carbonate and carbon dioxide to reduce the risk of metal particles dissolving into the water, and buildings in which fluoride would be added prior to distributing the water to individual homes. My associates and I then worked closely with the construction workers and the plant supervisor and her employees to ensure that the best facilities possible were built.
I am proud to stand here before all of you today and honored to have been able to make such a difference in the lives of so many people. I am thankful that we have so many individuals working together to make this day possible and am grateful for the many others who will keep the plants functioning properly, especially our laboratory workers that will ensure the safety of the water distributed through the treatment facility. Although most of you know how much effort went into this project, so few of those who are to benefit will ever think of any of us as they drink the glass of cold fresh drinking water directly from their faucet. But as I go to cut this ribbon to open this facility, I remember that no more children will be spending hours collecting water in the middle of the night. They will now be able to dream other dreams, and they too will be able to make a difference. Thank you."
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