News

July 7, 2009

Students Travel to Honduras to Build Sustainable Water Systems

By Andrew Jameson ’09

Andrew Jameson ’09, an electrical and computer engineering major, traveled with other members of Lafayette’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders to continue work on gravity-fed water systems in Honduras. As part of the multidisciplinary project, students have worked with villagers in El Convento, Lagunitas, and La Fortuna during numerous trips since the spring of 2003.

“Flight 611 now departing for San Pedro Sula.” These were the words we heard over the loudspeaker at the Houston airport on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 10. It was the start of a very exciting trip for the Lafayette College chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

A Tale of Two Villages

EWB Lafayette College is currently involved in building sustainable, potable water systems for two villages in Hounduras, El Convento and La Fortuna, both of which are in the Yoro district of the country. In every project, EWB Lafayette College works closely with a village and designs a water system tailored to its specific needs.

After arriving in Honduras and spending our first night in Yoro, we split up on the following day, with members from each of the two teams traveling to their respective villages.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna is the older of the two projects currently managed by EWB Lafayette College. The team traveling to La Fortuna included technical leader Marco Tjioe ’09, Abseen Anya ’11, Nicholas Stacey ’11, cultural leader Joaquín Beltran ’11, and faculty advisor Josh Smith, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

The La Fortuna team was able to view the culmination of years of work during their visit as the water system produced running, potable water. The team fixed a burst pipe, checked the quality of the water coming from the system, and poured concrete for latrines. Tjioe said he was glad to “see the project come to fruition, after three years of work from the part of EWB.” The project should be complete by the time the team returns for a final assessment this coming January.

El Convento

El Convento is a much younger project than the one in La Fortuna. As this was only the second visit to the community, the project is still in a very early phase. The emphasis of the trip for the El Convento team was on data collection which will later be analyzed when making design decisions for the water system.

A surveying team, comprised of Martin Tjioe ’09, myself, Martín Melendro ’11, and led by Diane Tran ’11, explored the terrain around the village, collecting data. The team surveyed a potential water pipe route as well as house locations in order to create an accurate model of the village.

Also in El Convento, assistant project manager Aubrey Kelley-Cogdell ’10 performed coliform tests on local water sources to check for the presence of any dangerous chemicals such as pesticides or heavy metals. John Greenleaf, visiting assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, served as a faculty mentor on the project, offering insight and suggestions on various issues. Washcarina Martinez ’11, along with Melendro, served as the translators and cultural liaisons for the El Convento team.

Cultural Experience

The jump of cultures from the busy United States to a rural village in Honduras required some adjustment. While in the village, we slept on a concrete floor, ate beans and rice for every meal, bathed in a river, and went to bed early after long days of hard work. The interaction with the locals, with whose cooperation the water system is being designed, is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the project. Everyone in the village was quite welcoming.

Sport provided a means of relaxation and a common language. All the residents enjoyed playing soccer and were certainly better than us. The children were especially engaging as they liked playing Frisbee, cards, and looking at pictures on the computer. At the conclusion of the trip, the El Convento team was invited to a party at the village leader’s house, showing the people’s gratitude.

Back Again

After two weeks of diligent work, we returned to Lafayette. There is plenty of work to be completed from the trip such as organizing the information we obtained and preparing reports. It will take some time to process the intense cultural exchange that each of us experienced while in Honduras. The trip created vivid memories of another way of life that will not soon fade.

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