Chemist Delivers Supplies to School with a Special Mission

Instead of swimwear and sandals, Russell Barry will have laboratory heaters and weighing scales in his carry-on luggage when he takes vacation time in February.

Barry, a Dow chemist in Horgen, Switzerland, will travel to Mekelle, Ethiopia, to continue his volunteer work at a school run by Rainbows4Children that educates about 1,300 students in the bustling city of more than 200,000 residents.

Rainbows4Children was founded in 2005 under the leadership of Max Robinson, a retired Dow chemist and business leader in Switzerland who wanted to memorialize his son Nicolas, who died at the age of 5. The school began with about 80 kindergarten students in a small building, and has expanded each year to accommodate a new cohort of students along with those who return as they age. Most spots at the school go to children of people with disabilities.

Barry first visited the school in 2013, using two and a half weeks of vacation time. At the time, his focus was to make the science lab more useful to students. He had learned from fellow Dow employees who had previously volunteered at the school that it needed science materials.

“The weighing scale they had was pretty similar to what you would use for weighing meat, which is not acceptable by any scientific standards,” Barry said. So before leaving Switzerland the first time, Barry engaged his colleagues to see if they could provide unused equipment to use at the school.

“People were willing to donate whatever was needed,” Barry said. “Dow even had some distilling equipment lying idle, and the lab staff packed it up carefully and I carried it over in my baggage.”

That 2013 trip was a big success, and this month he’s going back with more equipment and a new focus. This trip, he will help students prepare for the national college entrance examinations. The school’s first class of students is now old enough to take the exam this spring.

“The goal is for the students to be in the top 5 percent of students in Ethiopia,” Barry said.

Though it’s not what most people would do with their time away from work, Barry said travelling to Ethiopia has its own rewards.

“You can see a huge impact from what we do. What you do here lasts for many years,” he pointed out. “It’s not exactly a holiday, but it’s an adventure.”