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Engineers Without Borders chapter takes flight at Mizzou

The College of Engineering’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders traveled to Ciudad España, Honduras, in May on an assessment trip for their project to rehabilitate the wastewater treatment facility, shown here observing the facility with the local people who will help them in their efforts.

A little delegation goes a long way – 1,764 miles to be exact. The Mizzou Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter, formed in 2007, is making headway into the assessment and rehabilitation of a wastewater treatment facility in the small town of Ciudad España, Honduras. A subset chapter group of seven students and one professional mentor traveled to the small town, about 30 kilometers north of the capital, May 16-23 to assess resources, discuss project details with residents and advise those who are helping with it on how they can maintain the facility after construction.

The national organization, renowned for supporting sustainable, community-driven development programs abroad, approved MU EWB’s Ciudad España proposal last November. Since then, the group has drafted an initial plan of action with tentative goals and dates and a promise to monitor the treatment’s progress for the next five years. This will be Mizzou EWB’s first installed project. An attempted project in Brazil languished when the government reclaimed the land where the storm water project was being constructed.

As for the effort in Ciudad España, with an estimated population of 10,000, the need for improvement is high. With an unemployment rate of 80 percent, many of the residents lack the income to provide their families with basic necessities. In 2002, the Spanish government and Red Cross built the city in response to the lingering destruction of Hurricane Mitch, which destroyed infrastructure and left many Hondurans homeless and unemployed.

The first day of the trip, students met with community leaders, did a presentation on who they were, described the project and followed up with a question and answer session. The rest of the trip involved preliminary research of the 2002 wastewater treatment facility. The system, which utilizes water hyacinths – a floating aquatic plant for nutrient removal – is not commonly used and can be problematic.

“Our main goals on the first trip were to set up the communication lines and get to know the people living there,” chapter president Richard Carpenter said.

In addition, Mizzou EWB members asked residents some of their other needs for potential future projects. Many described sickness from unclean drinking water.

A project the magnitude of the wastewater treatment facility requires a real dedication of time and effort. The chapter does all of their own fundraising through presentations to local clubs and private donors. Last year retired Mizzou Civil Engineering alumnus, Paul Roth, generously donated $9,500 to the group’s effort.  Roth, who has worked in water and sanitation throughout his career, was interested in the project and wanted to help.

While donors make the project possible, a big key to the group’s success is the dedication of the officers. In the past year they have formalized the framework of the organization – constitution, committee jobs, fundraisers and monthly activity reports. They also have a genuine passion for the project and the people they serve.

“We aren’t trying to change the lives of a community in a drastic way, we are there to improve basic quality of life needs with the skills we have learned as engineers,” Carpenter said.

“I believe that as engineers, we have a responsibility to share our knowledge and experiences with disadvantaged communities,” he said.

“People in under-developed areas often become dependent on gifts, which can create problems,” member Tyler McKee said. “We strive to educate them to manage and support themselves after we leave, creating a lasting, sustainable project.”

The MU EWB group has high hopes for the success of the project and plans to return in January 2011 to install the facility.

“This multidisciplinary group provides a unique, real world experience engineering a sustainable project,” McKee said. “That’s something that other organizations typically don’t offer.”

Students interested in joining the group may check out their Facebook site at www.facebook.com/MizzouEWB or contact Richard Carpenter atracf8f@mail.missouri.edu.