Closing the gap: How Dr. Thabile Ndlovu is building a national bank of water data

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How much do you know about your water?

How much do you know about the water you drink?

Is it safe? Are there hidden risks you can’t see or taste, like heavy metals?

If you live in rural Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), you may have no choice but to rely on risky water sources like rivers, streams, or unprotected wells without knowledge of the safety of water from these sources.

Thanks to Thabile Ndlovu, PhD, that gap is closing.

Since receiving an Instrumental Access shipment in 2020, Dr. Ndlovu and her colleagues in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Eswatini have relentlessly focused on monitoring the presence of heavy metals in the country’s water supply. Even small amounts of heavy metals in drinking water (like arsenic and lead) can cause dangerous health conditions.

Dr. Ndlovu’s goal is to establish a baseline of knowledge about her country’s water—the most important factor for human and agricultural development. And with greater understanding of water safety as it is today, experts will have the data they need to make informed decisions about the future of Eswatini’s water supply.

Efforts to improve access to water in rural Eswatini have stopped short of making sure the water is safe to drink, explains Dr. Ndlovu. Access to water is unquestionably good, but only if the water is safe.

But thanks to Instrumental Access, “our department has the equipment that can go beyond increasing access,” she says. “We can determine the level of heavy metals in the water and identify solutions to make it safer.”

Establishing reliable national data

From her investigations so far, Dr. Ndlovu has found that water in Eswatini’s rivers and streams do contain low levels of heavy metals, none of which are being purified currently. So while these specific findings are on an unimaginably small scale, their influence is enormous for Dr. Ndlovu.

Her concern is that even a very small amount of heavy metal in drinking water can, over time, accumulate and cause severe health consequences. And having the most accurate foundation of information about the problem allows Dr. Ndlovu and other scientists to leverage their expertise to find a solution.

Of course, she can only put her expertise to use when she has access to robust scientific resources. She cannot monitor water safety, devise a solution, or test her hypotheses without the equipment, funding, and support that scientists rely on.

“Our work in the field and the lab requires access to equipment that we simply did not have before,” says Dr. Ndlovu. “Our goals are ambitious, and they can only be achieved when we have the right instruments to follow through.”

Dr. Thabile Ndlovu
"Our work in the field and the lab requires access to equipment that we simply did not have before. Our goals are ambitious, and they can only be achieved when we have the right instruments to follow through."

Dr. Thabile Ndlovu
University of Eswatini, Eswatini

Looking to the future

The 2020 Instrumental Access shipment was a critical first step for increasing Dr. Ndlovu’s local access to resources for science. The nearly 3 tons of equipment that arrived on campus are essential for this effort to monitor Eswatini’s unimproved water sources.

The future is full of promise as well.

“I am hoping that in the next 5 years, our research outputs will improve so we can be certain our bank of data is specific to Eswatini,” Dr. Ndlovu says.

With access to data and to resources, she and her colleagues will be prepared to shape the future of Eswatini, its water, and the people who call it home.

Seeding Labs’ mission to build capacity for institutions to lead development in their countries would be impossible without the support of our community. Thank you to the 31 donors who supplied equipment for this shipment.

If you would like to support future institutions that are solving their nations’ most pressing issues, start your journey by visiting our website.

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EK Wahome

EK Wahome
Logistics Intern

EK Wahome started working for Seeding Labs in 2024 primarily in the Instrumental Access Program. She is currently a Junior at Tufts University studying Biochemistry and Biotechnology.

EK is passionate about making research equitable and accessible to all.

Jennifer Raymond

Jennifer Raymond
Director of Corporate Relations

Jennifer partners with corporations, universities, and nonprofit organizations to identify opportunities to repurpose surplus scientific laboratory equipment that will in turn empower talented scientists in developing countries through the Instrumental Access program.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, Jennifer served as a Development Officer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where she managed relationships with donors, foundations, and corporations to advance the groundbreaking work of research scientists.

She also directed membership programs for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and alumni relations for the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Jennifer graduated from Wellesley College with a BA in French studies and a minor in philosophy.

Manisha Patel

Manisha Patel
Scientific Director

Manisha uses her scientific expertise to implement the equipment-related aspects of Seeding Labs’ programs and plays a key role in Instrumental Access.

She provides support to Instrumental Access awardees, helping them choose the instruments that best meet their research and teaching goals. She also advises the Corporate Relations team on equipment that would be useful in our awardees’ labs.

Manisha has extensive experience in managing academic research labs with knowledge spanning lab setup, compliance, and equipment training. Most recently, she oversaw labs at Harvard University.

For the past decade, Manisha directed an undergraduate internship program focused on one of her passions:  diversity and inclusion in STEM. She holds a BS in ecology from Rutgers University and an MS in ecology from the University of Vermont.

Micaela Leaska

Micalea Leaska
Programs Specialist,
Metrics & Evaluation

Micalea works with the Programs team to develop and implement metrics and evaluation tools, and to monitor the worldwide impact of Instrumental Access. She compiles and analyzes quantitative data and qualitative stories that exemplify our mantra, “talent is everywhere.”

Her prior work experience includes consulting for the World Bank, working on Water Security Assessments for Peru and Central America, and improving access to safe water in rural Ecuadorian communities with the nonprofit WaterStep.

Micalea holds a BA from Saint Michael’s College and completed her Master’s degree in Climate Change and Global Sustainability from SIT Graduate Institute, where she studied global science issues alongside scientists, stakeholders, and community members in Iceland, Tanzania, and Ecuador.

Chiudo Ehirim

Chiudo Ehirim
Instrumental Access

After completing an Atlas Corps Fellowship with Seeding Labs, Chiudo now provides support to our Instrumental Access partners from his Rumines Ltd. office in Lagos, Nigeria. Chiudo is CEO of Rumines, an environmental technology and management consulting company.

Prior to his fellowship, Chiudo was a country manager for Nigeria with Climate Scorecard, a US-based organization that monitors how the top 25 greenhouse gas-emitting countries implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Chiudo earned a BS in pure and industrial chemistry from the University of Nigeria and a Master’s of Science in environmental technology and management from the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria.

David Borman

David Borman, PhD

David works to highlight the innovation and scientific successes of Instrumental Access awardees. In telling these scientists’ stories, he helps to show the global impact of the Seeding Labs mission.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, David worked as the alumni affairs director for Brevard College in North Carolina and managed communications for Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies, a nonprofit in Louisville, Kentucky, that provides services to children with special needs.

David earned his PhD in English from the University of Miami. He holds an MA in English from the University of Louisville and a BA in English from Bellarmine University.

Christine Srivastava

Christina Viola Srivastava

Vice President of Programs

Christina is responsible for program development, planning, and implementation at Seeding Labs. 

Christina has experience as a research program evaluator and science policy analyst. She’s held roles with the consulting firm Abt Associates, Inc. and the Science and Technology Policy Institute.

Prior to entering the consulting world, Christina worked for the Boston-area nonprofits Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and Urban Ecology Institute. She holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Swarthmore College

Rick Sherman

Rick Sherman

Vice President of Philanthropy

Rick is responsible for the fundraising activities at Seeding Labs, engaging with corporations, foundations, and individuals to increase their financial and equipment donations to the organization.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, Rick spent 17 years working in a similar capacity at a number of science-focused organizations, including Keystone Symposia, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute).

Rick earned an MS in Finance from Drexel University, and a BS in Paper Science and Engineering from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

David Qualter

Vice President of Operations

David is responsible for global logistics at Seeding Labs, overseeing the efficient movement of lab equipment worldwide.

He joined Seeding Labs from Image Arts, a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, where he provided logistics direction for the company with $110 million in annual sales.

He brings 20 years of supply chain management experience with in-depth knowledge of international logistics, warehouse execution, and distribution center operations.

Originally an art student at Southeastern Massachusetts University, David now uses his creative talents to develop logistics strategies that produce operational efficiencies and quality customer service.

Melissa P. Wu, PhD

Melissa P. Wu, PhD

Chief Executive Officer

Please direct speaking requests to

As the CEO of Seeding Labs, Dr. Melissa P. Wu connects scientists and institutions around the world to help reduce barriers to scientific discovery.

Part scientist, part engineer, and part facilitator, Melissa brings strategic insight and rigorous methodology to her work, together with a dedication to helping people.

Melissa is driven by two overarching values: that scientific research is a critical tool for improving human lives, and that research thrives and we as a community make the best discoveries when we foster diversity in perspectives, approaches, and ideas. Joining these two ideas has given her a career focus on creating opportunities for people of all backgrounds to engage in scientific research.

Prior to being named CEO of Seeding Labs in 2019,
Melissa served as Senior Vice President of Operations. She revamped Seeding Labs’ Instrumental Access program to increase its efficiency while expanding its impact.

Melissa’s previous positions at the Harvard Office for
Diversity Inclusion and Community Partnership and the BioBuilder Educational Foundation helped spread scientific knowledge to students nationwide.

She is proud to have mentored many students through
programs at the Journal of Emerging Investigators, Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital, and MIT.

Melissa earned a PhD in Cellular and Developmental
Biology from Harvard University and holds an SB in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.