Engineers Without Borders return from Guatemala

Students install rainwater harvesting system in village.

Carter Haaland

Students from the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Engineers Without Borders student chapter recently returned from implementing a rainwater harvesting system in Guatemala. The group of six students and two mentors were in the Guatemalan village of Simajhuleu for about two weeks, Guillermo Alfonzo , the Minnesota representative for Engineers Without Borders USA, said. They returned to Minnesota on Sept. 5. The students poured concrete and set up gutters and pipes on a school building, EWB president Lauren Butler said. They also got to spend a lot of time with the school children. âÄúTo be involved in every little process makes it a lot more challenging, but also more rewarding,âÄù she said. Julian Marshall , the faculty advisor for the group, said a typical project involves traveling overseas, returning to the United States to design a solution to the problems students saw and then going back overseas to implement the project. âÄúThey are helping to serve impoverished communities worldwide,âÄù he said. Though the majority of members are engineering majors, students studying other subjects, like public health and design, also belong to the organization, Marshall said. Butler said the group encourages freshmen and non-engineering students to join. On the assessment trip to Simajhuleu, students saw the school children were not getting enough water, Alfonzo said. The group then decided to build an ecologically friendly rainwater system for the school. The project is set up so that rainwater will flow from the schoolâÄôs roof to the gutters and into a 130,000 liter underground concrete storage tank. Alfonzo described it as a simple economic system that takes advantage of the regionâÄôs rainy climate. He said the design will allow water to be stored and used later during the dry season. The rainwater system will provide 3 liters for each student every day during the dry season and more during the rainy season, Alfonzo said. Butler said the new rainwater harvesting system will almost double the amount of water the school children usually receive, as well as provide clean water for others in the village. âÄúIt definitely is a lot of work and time commitment during the school year and two weeks out of the summer, but itâÄôs been completely worth it for a number of reasons,âÄù Butler said. Being able to see what she could do with engineering motivates her for classes, she said. Being involved with EWB has also helped her to form invaluable relationships. The EWB students worked with a non-profit called Long Way Home , which will finish cleaning and setting up the tank, Alfonzo said. He added that the students hope to return to the area during winter break, but no definite plans have been made at this point. The organization also sent students to Haiti and Uganda this summer. EWB vice president Richard Barnes went to Haiti in May for an assessment trip after working for a year on preliminary designs with other students. The project was a biogas digester, which converts human waste into fertilizer and methane gas that can be used for cooking, Barnes said. One problem for the EWB students who went to Haiti was transporting the waste from the urban areas. âÄúThereâÄôs this problem of transporting something like 145 gallon buckets of human waste through someoneâÄôs field âĦ that was probably the most physically challenging part of the trip,âÄù Barnes said. Another challenging aspect of projects is figuring out what people actually need, he said. âÄúPart of the trip was trying to tease apart our perceptions of what they needed and their perceptions of what they needed and really find the best way of helping them,âÄù Barnes said. Other members of EWB spent the month of July in Uganda, Alfonzo said. He said that the group spent $70,000 on the trip, which is the biggest project the group has ever done. âÄúIâÄôve always felt that you have an obligation to do something to better the world you live in,âÄù Barnes said.