Engineering students construct water storage system in Guatemala

April 1, 2014

By Matt Hawins

Two years of planning and fundraising paid off with a two-week project in Guatemala for a group of Bradley engineering students. Two teams of students each spent a March week in the village of Nuevas Ilusiones to oversee and help in the construction of a freshwater well, a storage tank, and installing a water purification, storage and distribution system. 

The village of 350 in northern Guatemala lacks infrastructure to retain and store water for use during the region’s five-month dry season. Members of Bradley’s Engineers Without Borders chapter worked to develop a self-sustaining system that will reliably provide safe water for the community year-round.

“There are a lot of trips where you go down to a community, do work, leave and a year later you can barely tell you were there,” EWB President Jacob Abou-Hanna ’14 said. “We want to implement a system that’s still going in 20 years, they know how to operate themselves and if something goes wrong they know how to fix.”

Students partnered with professionals in the Heart of Illinois EWB chapter. Though only a handful of students traveled to Guatemala, 60-70 participated in the project since its inception.

Abou-Hanna credited the partnership for bringing the design to fruition.

“They definitely helped us see the bigger picture,” he said. “They’ve been putting in as much time as us. Some things are a little easier for them with degrees and experience. They really try to get us to do work for ourselves and are there for assistance.”

Team members labored to design the water system without knowing the exact situation they would face. Two years of preparation felt “like having another class,” Matt Heinrich ’14 observed.

Because of the long preparation, the significance of the effort didn’t sink in until students reached Guatemala.

“When we landed, it hit me that the work is going for something,” said Kyle Jennings ’15. “It seems like it’s almost been schoolwork. It’s pretty incredible to see our work rise.”

Over the past five years, many students, some having already graduated, worked hard to make EWB an active, professionally focused student organization open to all students.  They worked tirelessly to move this project from drawing board to reality, raised over $34,000 to fund the project, and worked in teams on the many different aspects of this project, including design of the well filtration system and the temporary storage tank.

The work will continue as knowledge and experience gained from this trip will be used for a trip next year that will build a permanent, expanded water system. Additionally, Abou-Hanna will monitor the village’s hospital visits to determine the system’s impact on waterborne diseases.

“It’s an extraordinary feeling that we’re able to complete something great for the people in another country,” Jennings said. “There’s a sense of pride being able to pull together resources to make this work.”