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Engineers Without Borders Students Help Provide Clean Water in El Salvador

April 16, 2014

Engineers Without Borders Miramar

Engineers Without Borders, a Drexel University student organization, has gone beyond the borders of engineering and the United States to accomplish a humanitarian project.

This coming June, six students from Drexel’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) will venture to a village called Miramar in El Salvador to implement a collection system that supplies clean water for 160 people in the community. The Miramar project has been the dominant work of EWB for the past five years. Since 2007, the team has taken three assessment trips to examine the site before implementing the water system.

“Being involved in the Miramar – El Salvador project has been really rewarding for me. It’s been a great opportunity to get to know students better, to work with students, and to be involved in something that’s beyond the confines of what we do here at the university,” Richard Cairncross, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the adviser of Drexel EWB, said. 

The most recent assessment trip in March 2013 served to focus more on the groundwater sources. The original plan was to drill a deep well and get a sufficient amount of water from it. Unfortunately, they were not able to drill the well deep enough and the team could not complete the project. They spent a lot of time looking into different sides of the ridge in Miramar for any potential groundwater sources. The process took several days and with the help of the villagers some viable results were yielded. 

One of the most concerning factors of the project was the water quality. Cairncross stated, “This is the water that the people are going to be drinking. We want them to have high-quality water.”

According to Cairncross, evidence from previous heath surveys have shown that people in the community were getting diarrheal diseases and other illnesses related to poor quality consumption. Results from quality tests taken by EWB showed that the water in the village was highly contaminated, mostly with E-coli and fecal coliform.

“EWB is dedicated to helping those in need, and part of the way we do this is by ensuring that the work we do is what the community actually wants,” said William Char, a pre-junior in Environmental Engineering and a member of EWB “Sometimes EWB and the community we are helping have different ideas of what is needed, so we make it a goal to always try and provide exactly what they want.”

It is also essential to teach people how to catch fish rather than giving the fish to them. A mission statement on EWB’s website reads, “We provide the basics of life such as water and shelter, using appropriate and sustainable technology. More importantly though, we help people help themselves.”

Engineers Without Borders is an international humanitarian engineering group that serves our global neighbors in the developing world; those who need it most. They design models including a rigorous technical and cultural assessment, community involvement, and a five-year commitment to each community that they serve for. The organization also works with non-government organizations, Peace Corps and other supporters. Drexel EWB has received sponsorships from Drexel University’s College of Engineering, Pennoni Associates Inc., Women in Transportation, Rotary International, etc.

Drexel EWB allows engineering students to hone and apply their skills, as well as gain experience in socially and globally influenced projects. The organization also welcome students from all majors, from sciences, arts to business majors.

For more information about Engineers Without Borders, Drexel Chapter and their projects, click here