Last September, six Santa Clara University engineering students, along with one of their professors and a water expert, traveled to the rural town of El Pital in the region of Atlantida, Honduras. The purpose of their trip was to assess different sources and begin the surveying process for a water distribution project that hopes to supply the community with clean drinking water by 2015.
The students are all members of SCU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA, which designs and implements projects for the benefit of marginalized communities in the developing world. In 2010, EWB did an initial assessment of the needs of communities in the Cangrejal Valley, and they found that El Pital, a small town of 450 people, was one of the most in need of a new water distribution system.
Miles Graugnard, a senior mechanical engineer who went with the group to Honduras a little over a month ago, was alarmed at the dire situation facing the people of El Pital. “Not only are they not getting clean water,” he says, “but they are also not getting enough water.”
In El Pital, the two main sources of illness are parasitic infections and dysentery, which both result from contaminated water. In order to improve the overall health of the people living in El Pital, EWB hopes to implement a clean water distribution project in the community and to couple this project with education and empowerment so that the people can educate one another about how to avoid illness. The chapter also hopes to start a sanitation project in the community.
While they only just completed the initial surveying process last month, EWB students are already working on their preliminary design for the water distribution system. The new potable water system will both filter and chlorinate the water, ensuring that it is clean through two methods of decontamination. The system will access freshwater streams that feed into the Cangrejal River and will decontaminate and then distribute water from these streams to the community.
During the two weeks they spent in El Pital, students gathered information for their preliminary design, tested different water sources and surveyed the land, established points for the furthest and highest houses in the community, and ran tests of the water for bacteria such as E. coli, which they then sent to a lab.
By the end of December, the students hope to have finished both the cost estimate and the preliminary design of the project so that they can send it to Un Mundo, a non-profit in Honduras that is helping fund the group’s project. After that, they will continue to work on their design, documenting their work for the national Engineers Without Borders organization. They hope to break ground on the project in 2015.
Community education and empowerment
While many engineering projects seek to provide new technologies that combat problems in the developing world, what makes EWB’s project unique is its emphasis on education and empowerment. “The problem with a lot of engineering projects is that they just give technology to a community without training or educating the population,” says Graugnard. “Our overall goal for the project is to empower the community; we are more of an engineering resource, and we are working directly with the community to ensure they can be self-sufficient and that our project is sustainable in this way.”
EWB is working with El Pital’s Junta de Agua (Water Board) to create a curriculum that will educate the community on sanitation, hygiene, and contamination, or how the people can and do get sick. A major part of their trip last September was to run a pilot program for this educational component with the Junta de Agua. They taught members about waste production, different types of waste, and blackwater, among other things, and they taught them how to teach the same material to other members of the community in a hands-on way to make it more interesting and understandable.
EWB’s hope is that the Junta de Agua can educate the rest of the community on how to avoid illness and how to utilize the system they are planning to implement. In that way, the project becomes a collaborative effort between both the people of El Pital and the members of EWB, which will empower the community to make necessary changes to improve living conditions for the people.
The future of the project
Students in EWB will continue to work hard this year on their initial design, and they also are going to continue fundraising for their project. EWB raised all the money needed to send six students and their professor to El Pital for two weeks through grants and donations, and they are hoping to raise more money for the benefit of their project.
Last year, EWB hosted a Honduran Culture Night to raise money for the trip, and this year, they will host the event again to raise awareness of Honduran culture and to raise money for future projects.
The students who went with EWB to Honduras last month are: Colin Boyle, '14, Terra Oldham, '13, Russell Williams, '14, Rob Golterman, '14, Elliot Martin, '13, and Miles Graugnard, '13. Their professor, Dr. Tonya Nilsson, traveled with them, and another professor, Dr. Shoba Krishnan, has been an advisor for the project.
Visit EWB’s Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter for more information about this and other projects.
By Aven Satre-Meloy, ’13 Sustainability Intern – Communications