The Notre Dame chapter of Engineers Without Borders contributed to budding engineering developments abroad in a winter break trip to Ecuador this year.
The social service organisation is currently in the middle of a five-year partnership with the San Pedro de Suma community in Ecuador. With the assistance of its parent organisation, Engineers Without Borders USA, and the mentorship of two engineering professionals, the club has developed a sustainable project in terms of assessment, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
President of Engineers Without Borders at Notre Dame senior Madelyn Wesoloski believes the personal relationship the club establishes with the community is essential to the success of the project.
“There were two projects over winter break that we implemented,” Wesloski said. “We did chlorination at the two schools there and the town really liked it. Because the town was excited about chlorination, it will now be community-wide, which will be another assessment trip. We can extend our commitment with the community a bit, but we try to fit what we can in there. We travel there at least once a year, because if not, they can lose faith in you and you won’t seem invested.”
The club started planning for this implementation trip last year. As part of the preparation process, club members did alternative analyses work for the water chlorinator and the wall they built around the schools to prevent animals from getting in (and students from leaving). During the fall, students prepared designs and calculations for the projects.
Project lead and senior Jen Lies emphasised that Engineers Without Borders is focused on improving the health and welfare of those in the community. After the club’s assessment trip last year, they determined the water chlorinator was not just something the community wanted, but a pressing need and a project that the club could feasibly do.
“Water chlorination is important because there is E. coli in the water. Wastewater treatment there is poor,” Lies said. “The chlorinator hasn’t gone live yet, but we are looking to increase health and general well-being of the community through the quality of water. We got to see designs we had been working on for entire year come into reality, which was awesome. We couldn’t have done it without the strength of partners who are volunteers and community contractors. It was great to see teamwork despite the bumps in the road.”
Prior to the winter break implementation trip to Ecuador, members of the club created pamphlets about water chlorination in Spanish for the community to address the stigma associated with water chlorination. They also wrote maintenance and operation manuals so that town members could effectively use the systems.
Wesoloski said the San Pedro de Suma community having a hands-on role in the project will ultimately lead to the successful implementation and effective use of the water chlorinator.
“One cool thing is that last year the community was unsure about chlorine and water treatment system. Now, they’re asking if we can do it on a community-wide scale. They bought into water treatment as a whole,” Wesoloski said. “The wall was built by local contractors and labour was from the community. That’s another part of this. We don’t go in and do isolated things, but we involve local people and the economy with the projects. They have a lot of local knowledge that makes projects more effective.”
Looking towards the future, Engineers Without Borders is expanding their work to projects in South Bend and increasing fundraising to accommodate the growing club.
“We want to make sure people are comfortable and have access to the resources they need,” sophomore and treasurer Mike Marino said. “We hope our students learn a lot about the engineering process. Not just how it feels to interact with the community, but also what it feels [like] to make an impact. It is such a fun process with a lot of cooperation, and we know our work has an impact. We do the numbers, help communities with discernment and figure out what it means to be an engineer.”