This story is from The Pulse, a weekly health and science podcast.
In 2016, Erika Erickson was a brand-new biochemist, fresh off her Ph.D. in plant biology, when she decided to spend a year volunteering with the Peace Corps. She was assigned to a small village in the West African country of Guinea.
Picture mud huts with thatched roofs, surrounded by unspoiled, stunning nature.
“It was absolutely gorgeous,” Erickson remembered. “There’s very little development. And so for anyone who’s an outdoor enthusiast, it was kind of a magical place.”
But Erickson’s job wasn’t to marvel at all the beauty around her. She was there to think about resilient systems. And one of her big projects was figuring out how to keep waste from ending up in the environment — specifically, nearby fields and the streams that local residents used for their drinking water.
Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world, which means that in a lot