Ten students and two professors from The Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York (CCNY) will travel January 4 to Honduras to build a new water system for a rural community there. The trip culminates a year-long project by the CCNY chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which not only planned and implemented the project, but also raised $33,000 to cover its cost.
The Honduran community, Nueva Suiza, with a population of approximately 350, is located in a remote, mountainous area and lacks basic amenities such as electricity, telephone, public transportation and water supply infrastructure. The new system will have a marked positive impact on the village’s health and economy.
“Engineers Without Borders not only provides a real public service for people in need, but gives students valuable experiences they don’t get in the classroom. They do all the planning, design, assessment and implementation,” said Beth Wittig, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering and advisor to the CCNY Chapter.
“Through projects like this, students obtain hands-on experience, learn rules of thumb that practicing professional engineers use, network with professional engineers and develop practical skills such as proposal writing, project management and leadership.”
“This water project in Nueva Suiza, Honduras, exemplifies our student body’s commitment to the global community, applying practical and theoretical skills, and developing leadership skills through service,” added Joseph Barba, Dean of The Grove School of Engineering.
Nueva Suiza’s existing water supply comes from a spring-fed pool contained by a natural dam made of rocks and clay. Community members must walk one kilometer to the dam to collect water and then carry it back to their homes. For many, the trek is too arduous and they have resorted to drawing water much closer to their homes from a small stream that has formed from the dam’s spillover. However, this rivulet has become contaminated and the water causes many residents to become sick.
The water system project consists of a reinforced, enclosed dam at the spring, a new tank in the center of the village where people will be able to draw water from several spigots, and a one-half mile pipeline connecting the dam to the tank. The 1 ½” diameter PVC pipeline will be buried when possible to protect it from foot traffic and animals, and anchored in place in locations with steep slopes using a geo-textile and rebar. I
n addition to building the system, the students, most of whom are bilingual, will educate the community on public health issues such as solid waste management and ventilation.
The CCNY chapter of Engineers Without Borders was awarded the Nueva Suiza project through a competitive bidding process shortly after it was established in October 2005. “They were chosen over some of the best engineering schools in the country because their proposal demonstrated understanding of the technical and cultural issues related to the project, ability to achieve the project and dedication to implementing sustainable designs,” said Professor Wittig.
To fund the project, the students raised $33,000. Contributors included The Grove School of Engineering, Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies, CCNY Alumni Association, CCNY Engineering Alumni Association, CCNY Auxiliary Enterprise Corp., Turner Construction and private donors.
In April, three students, Professor Wittig and Cliff Gold, a CCNY alumnus and professional advisor to the chapter, traveled to Nueva Suiza for an assessment trip. The team interviewed community members in Spanish about health issues and water usage, evaluated nearby springs as potential water sources and built simple dams with local residents. In addition, they collected water samples to measure pH, hardness, and chemical composition.
The design work was conducted and over the spring, summer and fall with much of it accomplished by students at weekly chapter meetings. The design not only needed to be well engineered but acceptable to the community. “We needed to find a middle ground between the optimal engineering solution and what they wanted,” said Yurintzy Estrada, a civil engineering major who is the student project manager.
Besides improving public health, the new system will be a boon to the local economy. Women and children in Nueva Suiza will no long have to make the long, arduous trek to the spring to draw water and can put their time toward more productive uses. In addition, there will be more water available to support agriculture, which is the community’s economic lifeline.