A passion for engineering and the environment led Liam Weaver to transfer to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
That drive for a more sustainable planet, combined with an unquenchable love for visiting its cultures, countries and ecosystems, led him to find a way to improve lives on a substantial scale.
Weaver, a senior from Franklin, Tennessee, graduates Saturday with a degree in civil and environmental engineering. One of four students to have earned top honors in the College of Engineering, he will next attend the University of California, Berkeley, in pursuit of a doctorate, starting this fall.
At UT, he helped start a chapter of Students Helping Honduras, an organization dedicated to the betterment of that Central American nation.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a number of places, and I try and always make a habit to live as the locals live and not just do the touristy things,” said Weaver. “Honduras is a place where there aren’t a lot of ways for people to move out of poverty, to escape violence—something our organization seeks to change.”
Weaver pointed out that the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula recently had a rate of 187 murders per 100,000 people—significantly more than second-place Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which had 148 per 100,000, and almost three times more than Flint, Michigan, which had 62 per 100,000, the highest rate in the United States.
A lack of jobs and educational opportunities, together with a large number of orphans, fuels the problem, with kids who age out of the care system having nowhere to turn but gangs in order to find work.
Education, in particular, is one of those areas that Weaver and SHH are actively working to change.
“The goal is to build a thousand schools by 2020,” said Weaver. “So far we’ve passed around 21 or so, and we’re well on the way to showing that through education there’s another way out, that they don’t have to join gangs.
“Whether it’s by 2020 or 2050, we’ll keep working with the locals to ensure every village that needs a school has the opportunity to build one.”
Job skills have also gotten the group’s attention.
They’ve helped bring about libraries and create vocational education possibilities through farming and business.
One of the things that SHH prides itself on is—well, lack of pride.
The group learned from other well-intentioned groups doing similar work that improvement that isn’t sustainable won’t last.
Because of that consideration and a commitment to “sweat equity,” SHH also added a way for Hondurans to get food through a more sustainable system of farming.
“We’ve worked to set up tilapia ponds in villages in a way that is pretty self-sustaining,” said Weaver. “By positioning chicken coops over the ponds, the chicken excrement provides nutrients for algae blooms, aka fish food, and the chickens can feed on duckweed and other surface plants.
“It also provides the children of the village training in a method of producing food with limited space and resources.”
Weaver said that commitment to the environment came naturally.
Growing up in Middle Tennessee, he said, his family was always spending time in the forest.
His father, Greg, is head of a group focused on restoring the American chestnut after a blight wiped them out, an effort that landed him recognition from the American Chestnut Foundation, among others.
And it isn’t just Honduras that has benefited from the younger Weaver’s input. Before his involvement with SHH, he spent time in New Zealand interning on its Green Building Council.
When he heads to the Bay Area this fall, Weaver will leave behind a legacy and a hope for the future of the group and the planet.
“One of the big goals is to leave the group with a healthy future ahead of it, and with an energetic group of young officers, I think we’re in great shape,” Weaver said. “As far as sustainability efforts, I really do think travel can play a key role.”
“Once you’ve been somewhere and seen it, you appreciate it more.”
Weaver said that travel can mend the cultural disconnect between people and the planet, and that working to design and manage greener villages, infrastructure and cities shows that people and the rest of life on earth can coexist.