Student engineers provide clean water to Nicaraguan village
Clemson University students who have played a central role in providing clean water to a small Nicaraguan village will return over winter break to check on a well and chlorination system that has transformed residents’ lives.
The university’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders is in the final stage of a five-year project in La Pintada.
Students began their work by researching the best way of providing water to the village. They considered rainwater catchments and drawing from a nearby stream, but ultimately found that drilling a well was best.
The group picked the best spot for the well, raised the money for the installation and hired a contractor to do the drilling in December 2014. A chlorination system was installed in May.
Now students need to make sure everything is functioning as it should and that the village’s residents are ready to take over the system.
Andrew Carlin, the Clemson chapter president, has twice made the trip to Nicaragua, his first time as a freshman. Carlin, a chemical engineering major, is now a senior.
“Finally seeing that whole picture come together and now having only to monitor is wonderful,” Carlin said. “This is something special. Both times I went, the community came together and threw a big party.
“People are healthier. The community is doing better financially. It’s very evident the great impact that we’ve had on the community.”
The Nicaragua trip comes on the heels of a top prize for the engineering organization. The Clemson chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa, a group that promotes leadership, last spring named the Clemson chapter of Engineers Without Borders the Clemson University Organization of the Year.
Mark Schlautman, the faculty advisor for the Clemson chapter of Engineers Without Borders, said La Pintada had a well before the Clemson students came along, but it became contaminated with pathogens.
“That’s a pretty common occurrence in developing countries,” said Schlautman, who is a professor in the Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences.
Residents for a while bought water from a neighboring community. But it was expensive and unreliable, and testing showed it wasn’t the cleanest water, Schlautman said.
Students typically go to Nicaragua in groups of six or seven over winter and summer breaks.
Money comes from Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program, and fund-raising events, including a Rent-A-Puppy event on Bowman Field. The University’s Calhoun Honors College provides travel grants.
In addition to the well and chlorination system, students working in Nicaragua have also used their engineering talents to create an irrigation system for a boys’ home. One woman runs the home, and she has about 15 boys staying with her at any given time, Carlin said.
They tend a garden to provide income for the home. To water the garden, boys had to fill buckets from the nearest water source, walk back to the garden and pour out the water.
“We created a drip irrigation system to save them time,” Carlin said. “That way they could do more things and water more land in the amount of time they had.”
While students were working in a developing country, they had some advantages that made the work easier than it could have been in other parts of the world.
La Pintada has electricity, which is necessary to run the water pumps. Local transportation services are available to get students to the village, and hotels and lodges are nearby.
David Freedman, chair of the Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, congratulated the group on a job well done.
“The Clemson University chapter of Engineers Without Borders is providing valuable real-world experience to its students and transforming lives in parts of the world where help is needed most,” he said. “As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, global engagement programs like this will grow in importance.”
The Clemson chapter is part of a national organization, Engineers Without Borders USA. The group has 15,900 members and partners with communities to meet basic human needs.
Students in the Clemson chapter can get credit for their work through the Creative Inquiry program. Members come from all of the university’s engineering departments and some non-engineering programs.
Travel to developing countries isn’t required to participate. Students work throughout the academic year to identify problems and to develop sustainable solutions. A smaller group travels to the country to implement the solutions.
When the work is finished in Nicaragua, the Clemson chapters’ work will continue. The chapter also has a project in the west African nation of Gambia, which started in 2014.
Members are focusing on a coastal village, Bufrut, where clean water is available, but the only way to get it is to throw in a bucket and heave it back up by hand with a rope, a task done mostly by women.
“The community would like us to help alleviate some of this hardship,” Schlautman said.
In addition to continually recruiting undergraduate students, the Clemson chapter of Engineers Without Borders is always welcoming of any professionals and graduate students interested in getting involved in technical reviews and travel. Also, anyone can make a tax deductible donation for direct project costs through EWB-USA on the chapter’s website, http://people.clemson.edu/~ewb.