My Favorite Student Organization: Engineers Without Borders

Zach-2014 Viterbi Orgs 3 Comments

What’s one club that allows me to combine my engineering skills, spanish minor, and love for helping people? If you answered Engineers Without Borders, you are correct! Engineers Without Borders is a student organization that develops sustainable solutions in conjunction with the national organization in impoverished communities. At EWB-USC, we work in two communities in Marcala, Honduras. The two different communities, and hence two different project groups, are called La Estanzuela and Corral de Piedras. In these communities, the primary issue is the lack of consistent, potable water sources. The Marcala region gets a lot of rainfall; however, the rain only comes during part of the year, while during the rest of the dry season water access is scarce. The communities are rather spread out and the terrain is somewhat difficult to navigate, meaning some community members have to trek up to a mile across hazardous terrain to reach water. Additionally, since the community is also a significant distance from any developed regions in Honduras, the government does not expect to provide Corral de Piedras with basic utilities until 20 years from now.

The path to the schoolhouse

So then, what does EWB-USC do? I’m one of two project managers for the Corral de Piedras project. This past spring, both us and the La Estanzuela groups wrapped up our previous projects. Our project was a rainwater catchment system, which captured rainwater that sloped off of the roof a schoolhouse, was collected in the gutters, and piped into two 1000 liter tanks.

Corral de Piedras Schoolhouse

The support columns and tanks that were put in place on the December 2011 trip

What I love about Engineers Without Borders is the ability to use concepts from statics, fluid dynamics and other classes in real life engineering situations. Each EWB chapter is directly involved in the creation of new projects and must provide the necessary calculations and mathematical support to prove that the project is viable. After we develop a project and get it approved by industry professionals at EWB nationals, we go down to Honduras and work hand in hand with the community to build our project. It’s a great way to learn how the actual implementation of a project differs from the calculated drawn out version. Often, we have to make adjustments on the fly once we’re in Honduras, either because certain materials become unavailable or situations change.

Placing the PVC pipe for the support columns

Posing with our beautiful support columns

But, the most rewarding and fun aspect of Engineers Without Borders is getting to know the community and seeing legitimate positive change all due to our efforts. The community is incredibly friendly and grateful for the work that we do. However, we also learn a lot from them as well. They’re ability to engineer and construct in unideal situations is incredible. A lot of times we end up adopting local construction practices to make things work. The people of Honduras and the Marcala community will always have my utmost respect.

The town of Marcala

Some of the school children

We will be heading back to Honduras in January for an assessment trip for our newest project. Until then, hasta luego!


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