UNM group to begin well project to aid Bolivian communities
By Nichole Harwood
Engineers Without Borders UNM, a chapter of the parent organization EWB-USA, will be receiving a $1,000 donation toward efforts in Bolivia to construct wells for impoverished communities.
The donation comes from the AWMA, otherwise known as the Air and Waste Management Association.
Santiago Trujillo, Chicana and Chicano Studies major and chapter president of EWB-UNM this year, said his team will receive the donation after a presentation scheduled for Dec. 6.
“What we’re doing is giving the presentation on our chapter and project, particularly looking at our trip from last summer where a team of ours actually got to install a hand pump that was working for a community,” he said.
The project will be located in an indigenous Tsimane community, working with a local driller to drill a well and install a hand pump made out of local building materials and using practices the community can implement themselves, Trujillo said.
The current chapter has gone through a bit of a turnover, he said, but four years ago the EWB’s student chapter had done presentations like this regularly.
Now with a new team formed within the last six months, Trujillo said they approached the AWMA, and were told they would be willing to support the student chapter again.
Engineers Without Borders is a humanitarian organization that is international, providing engineering services to empower communities’ human needs. Communities in need go through an application process to be considered, Trujillo said.
After the process is completed the community’s project goes into a pool with other projects, at which point chapters, whether professional or student, get to pick available projects that align with their goals, he said.
“What we’re really concerned with is sustainability of the project, so the process of having the communities come to EWB first kind of instills a sense of ownership from the communities on their project,” Trujillo said.
Marisol Lucero, a member of the fundraising team and a liberal arts major, said especially in projects like the current one in Bolivia — where infrastructure could fall apart or needs to be maintained — there is a need for people who are invested in the community, as the EWB team won’t be there for the whole year to maintain the project’s infrastructure.
“If you imagine one thing with humanitarian efforts, the easiest thing to do is to send money to organizations,” Lucero said. “The really difficult thing to do is to build lasting infrastructure, and so it’s really important that our chapter is able to facilitate and put together great long-lasting projects.”
These projects take time, money, transportation and volunteer students, as well as outreach to the communities, Lucero said.
Although not an engineering major, Lucero said she hopes her experience with her current job and with past experiences with fundraising will help to ensure the current year will be great for the student chapter, as well as ensure the next year’s chapter has funding down the road.
This is the first project she has ever worked on, she said.
Phoeby Zhang, treasurer for EWB-UNM, said that while she is a chemical engineering major, she has always felt that her heart and interest have been with humanitarian projects.
“I have the technical skills, I have the interest and the desire to help people,” she said.
Zhang said she just joined last semester, having been introduced to EWB by the previous president who shared a class with her.
“The real life problems we are solving are really hard for us to wrap our heads around. There are people out there who do not have access to clean water, and what we’re doing is we’re supplying them a means of drinking clean water,” Zhang said.
The money will not be directly sent to the Bolivian community, but rather put towards the project the EWB team will be completing, she said. This money will go to travel expenses, hiring local engineers and buying materials, Zhang said.
Students completing the project are trained in U.S. standard engineering protocols, so when they go down to Bolivia to complete the project they are following the highest standards in the entire world, Lucero said. “It’s the expertise that is brought to a community that so needs help when they’re suffering from illnesses. They’re not just getting something shoddy that’s going to break in the next three weeks,” she said.
Trujillo said members do not have to be part of the travel team to receive real world experiences, just part of the chapter.
“We do so much stuff in advance of a trip and year-round locally to support those efforts, that you get good experiences just being there. Putting together fundraising events, understanding where the money goes, how it goes. We also have to do a lot of reporting to be able to even go do our trips to our project, so learning some more about reporting, writing, presenting and doing outreach — we have to do all of these things,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo encourages students interested in humanitarian work to do it because of the many different things they can learn about another community as well as themselves, he said.
As for working with EWB and the current Bolivian project, Zhang said she always felt welcome and has always received warm greetings from her fellow members.
“Being a member, the treasurer for EWB has required me to acquire outreach skills, and by doing so has helped me overcome my anxieties personally. I think that’s very personally valuable,” she said.
Nichole Harwood is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Nolidoli1.