Engineers without Borders Building Water Delivery System Abroad

Six students from the Lehigh student chapter of the national organization went to Cebadilla, Nicaragua, this summer for a week of work that's making a difference


William Kuehne '17 is the Vice President of the Lehigh student chapter of Engineers without Borders (EWB), a humanitarian organization that works to provide basic necessities to communities in need, and as he explains, the group's current project in rural Nicaragua was thoughtfully planned out until its summer work trip forced them to reconsider their timelines in a major way.

"We're installing a water system in conjunction with the mayor's office in Cebadilla, Nicaragua," Kuehne said, "but it wasn't until we saw the need with our own eyes that we realized how quickly we need to make this happen."

Kuehne describes a scene in which the village's twice-weekly water supply arrives via truck, and its approximately 250 citizens stand along the side of the road holding every container they own – bowls, buckets, even garbage cans. "All the wells are dried up," he explained, "and the worst part is that the truck is coming more and more infrequently. So we're doing everything in our power to expedite the process. We have to."

The group's most recent trip to Nicaragua was in August 2015. Six students and two advisors – Richard Weisman, professor of water resources engineering, and Dan Zeroka, engineering technician for the department of civil and environmental engineering – spent a week assessing the town's needs, engineering plans for a solution, and working with officials on the ground to help establish social infrastructure and policy around the water crisis.

"That's one of the great things about EWB," Kuehne said. "We're not just an engineering group. Yes, many of our members are engineers – civil, chemical, mechanical – but we're also a group that's passionate about making a difference on the political or social levels, so our members include students from global studies, international relations, and sociology, among other majors."

Their solution to this particular problem involves a well already built by the town, a pump the town plans to install, and a delivery system from the pump to a storage tank and finally to the town's homes and its citizens. The EWB students will design and help build this delivery system themselves. "From a more technical perspective, this trip was all about observing what the town has done and taking measurements that will inform how we engineer a solution," Kuehne said.

The group of students and their advisors also spent a great deal of time meeting with both leaders and ordinary citizens to learn more about the myriad problems associated with building and maintaining the water delivery system –not the least of which is how it gets paid for over time. But Kuehne was encouraged by the group's progress. "We got a lot of contracts signed," he said, and hopes the group will be ready to implement on its next trip in either January or March 2016.

If you'd like to donate to the Lehigh student chapter of Engineers without Borders and its students' efforts in Nicaragua, click here.

And to learn more about the group's other active projects and how you can get involved, visit ewb.web.lehigh.edu.

By John Gilpatrick

EWB in Nicaragua

Students from Lehigh's EWB student chapter meet with local officials in Cebadilla, Nicaragua, to discuss plans for a system to deliver clean water to the town's 250 citizens.

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