Engineers Without Borders Find Water


After updating the townspeople on the
well’s progress and future plans, the EWB workers were treated to fresh coconut and watermelon. From left are community members Juan and Santos, HOI EWB Vice President Will Frisbey, Ben Roos ’16, Jacob Abou-Hanna ’15, Elizabeth Perisin ’14 and HOI EWB member Mike Gregg.

After raising more than $34,000, students from Bradley’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), along with professionals from the Heart of Illinois (HOI) chapter, oversaw completion of the second major step in a five-year plan to bring clean drinking water to a small Guatemalan community last March.

Building a Better World

Located two miles south of the Mexican border, Nuevas Ilusiones is home to nearly 80 families (about 385 people), yet it lacks year-round access to a reliable source of potable water. With the help of a non-governmental agency, the community’s need was accepted and listed as an approved EWB project. “They were just waiting for a chapter to connect with the project, and that’s when we came in,” said Charles “Trip” Barton ’94 MSCE ’95, an EWB professional member and project manager for Maurer-Stutz Inc.

“It’s kind of like Doctors Without Borders, but instead of treating people, we’re making them more efficient as a community,” noted biology and mechanical engineering major Jacob Abou-Hanna ’15. “We’re building a self-sufficient water treatment system. … Our job is to set them up for success, so they don’t need us anymore.”

Under the guidance and oversight of the HOI professional chapter, Bradley’s students spent more than two years conducting a majority of the preliminary engineering and fundraising work on campus between classes and other obligations. Split into four student-led teams, the participants shared progress updates online and at regular (weekly or biweekly) meetings.

Tackling Challenges Together

The Source Team, tasked with finding the water, quickly learned the United States makes this process much easier than most countries. Instead of a simple Web search, they had to connect with and gather data from contractors based around Nuevas Ilusiones. They also relied on information collected by students who visited the community on an assessment trip in early 2012. Having ruled out local springs due to insufficient water production, the Source Team settled on drilling a well while also recommending the use of rainwater catchment systems for gardening and other non-consumable purposes.

Laying out the plan for dealing with the water once it was found, the Storage Team had two main responsibilities. First, they had to select a storage tank, a decision that was restricted to locally available materials. Ultimately, they implemented a plastic tank as a temporary solution until the next phase of the project is funded, when they plan to construct a concrete tank on site. They then used topographic maps and GPS coordinates supplied by the assessment trip team to pinpoint the ideal tank location and elevation to generate enough pressure for the water to reach its intended distribution points.

Once they identified the required water access points with help from community members, the Distribution Team determined the necessary pipe size to ensure a steady water flow at all times. “The town is laid out in a triangle form where the center serves as a public area with a community center and church. We set up a grid that will feed the three legs of the triangle as well as the center,” Barton explained.

The last group, the Finance Team, focused on the project’s biggest hurdle: the money. Although many EWB projects receive large corporate or governmental grants through partnerships, the Nuevas Ilusiones well started at zero. After initially applying for and receiving grants from the Caterpillar Foundation and Bradley, the group continued to submit proposals for as many grants as possible while also engaging in traditional grassroots fundraising, efforts that culminated last March when seven of the participating students and several of their professional mentors visited the village to oversee drilling of the well and installation of the preliminary storage/distribution system.

Going with the Flow

“The trip was a great success,” remarked mechanical engineering major Andrew Ebert ’15. “Not only did the drilling company hit water, but as a group, we were able to gather information about the community and environment that will enable us to continue with this project and give the community what it really needs.”

Elizabeth Perisin ’14, a civil engineering major, agreed: “The people in the community are now self-sufficient because of the hard work everyone put in, from hours of late-night design sessions to days of fundraising. This would not be possible without everyone’s dedication.”

According to Barton, 30 to 40 students have actively engaged with the project since its beginning. “The students were great. They were invested, and they had a great experience all around.”

— Clara Miles, MA ’05
Photography courtesy Jacob Abou-Hanna ’15