Engineers Without Borders: OSU Goes to Nicaragua

Los Portrerillos, NicaraguaOregon State University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) recently began working on a new project in Nicaragua. Five students and Dr. Stephen Good, a Biological and Ecological Engineering professor at OSU will be working with the community to drill a well in Los Potrerillos, a town of around 1,000 people. Currently, the community there has extremely limited access to water. According to student Andrew Gardner, each person gets about five gallons of water per day.

The group of volunteer students are part of the 40 to 50 active members of EWB at OSU, and were selected based on their experience traveling, whether they speak the language, and their level of involvement with the student-run club. EWB-USA is a national organization that “partners with communities to meet their basic human needs,” according to their website.

Community-based organizations across the globe can apply to partner with EWB-USA to develop projects concerning water supply, sanitation, civil works, agriculture, energy, or structures. EWB chapters, such as the one at OSU, are matched with communities based on engineer skill sets and community needs. The OSU chapter will be working with local organizations, the Water Committee, and El Porvenir, to improve the quality of life in Los Potrerillos.

“Each student chapter tends to focus on one type of project. We have lots of chemical and environmental engineers who work with piping systems,” Gardner said.

The group then makes a five-year commitment to the community that progresses through three phases: assessment, implementation, and reassessment. The assessment phase for Los Potrerillos occurred last year, and they have now entered the implementation phase, which began with a three-week trip in August. The OSU students are hoping to return to Nicaragua in December to continue building the infrastructure to improve the community’s access to water. The goal is to help give each person 20 gallons of water per day which should optimize public health, school attendance, and time spent getting water.

“We really want to do whatever it takes to ensure that the community has what we have built for a very long time,” Gardner said. This includes making sure that the community has the tools and resources to maintain the project, a payment structure in place, and a reassessment to ensure the project’s proper function.

Past EWB-OSU partnerships have included communities in El Salvador and Kenya. They have recently begun work in Cambodia, and are interested in working with domestic communities as well. The projects are open to students of all majors at OSU, who can get involved in their weekly club meetings or tabling events.

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By Gina Pieracci