Last April, a team of stu­dents from Northeastern’s chapter of Engi­neers Without Bor­ders (EWB-​​NEU) trav­eled to the vil­lage of El Cha­guite, Hon­duras, to assess the community’s water system and design a new, fully func­tional system for the rapidly expanding community.

Rec­og­nized as “Project of the Month” by Engi­neers Without Bor­ders USA, a non­profit human­i­tarian orga­ni­za­tion, the stu­dents eval­u­ated the cur­rent water system and iden­ti­fied the most effec­tive ways for the res­i­dents to obtain their daily water needs.

It was an amazing trip,” said Jen Chin, sec­re­tary of EWB-​​NEU and a junior mechan­ical engi­neering major. “It is inde­scrib­able what it was like to see that what we do really can matter. The trip really put things into per­spec­tive for me, and now I under­stand how lucky we have it here.”

EWB-​​NEU will com­plete the water system project in three visits to El Cha­guite. During its first visit to Hon­duras in April, EWB-​​NEU team mem­bers sur­veyed the water quality, con­ducted health assess­ments, col­lected data and cal­cu­lated mea­sure­ments to design an effec­tive water system.

Team mem­bers said the cur­rent water system is so unre­li­able that vil­lagers are forced, to use water from con­t­a­m­i­nated alter­na­tive sources.

The system is cur­rently in com­plete dis­re­pair and cannot meet the demands of the vil­lage,” said Rajesh Pun­jabi, a junior civil engi­neering major and head of design for the project.

Back at North­eastern, the team for­mu­lated a plan to improve the community’s quality of life.

EWB-​​NEU will con­struct a water system that fea­tures a 6,500-gallon water storage tank, a new dis­tri­b­u­tion net­work and a water tap at each of the 60 houses, two churches and one school in the village.

In addi­tion to pre-​​assessing the new project, the stu­dents, along with their pro­fes­sional mentor and North­eastern alumnus, Dan Saulnier, vis­ited Los Planes, Hon­duras, to look at the progress of another vil­lage with a new water system com­pleted by EWB-​​NEU ear­lier this year.

It looked like a com­pletely dif­ferent vil­lage,” said Saulnier, who has been on all of the EWB-​​NEU trips. “All of the vil­lagers looked healthy. They were drinking more water, eating more and looked so happy.”

We weren’t sure what to expect,” said Lucas Johnson, pres­i­dent of EWB-​​NEU and a junior mechan­ical engi­neering major. “The trans­for­ma­tion was sig­nif­i­cant. Many vil­lagers in Los Planes already started their own gar­dens, which rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment. It really showed what can happen in such a short amount of time.”

This December, EWB-​​NEU will return to El Cha­guite to con­struct the new water system, including its trans­mis­sion main and pipelines for the dis­tri­b­u­tion net­work. “What El Cha­guite has now is basi­cally a system held together with duct tape and good inten­tions,” Johnson said. “It is leaky and the pres­sure is poor. Some­times it works and some­times it does not.”

The team will return once more in the spring to com­plete the dis­tri­b­u­tion system, install per­sonal taps in all homes and build the storage tank.

The national Engi­neers Without Bor­ders orga­ni­za­tion offi­cially sanc­tioned Northeastern’s chapter in March 2005. With ongoing part­ner­ships with two non-​​profit orga­ni­za­tions, Amer­i­cans Caring Teaching and Sharing and Sus­tain­able Har­vest Inter­na­tional, the orga­ni­za­tion hopes to con­tinue its efforts in Hon­duras as well as expand into other coun­tries like Uganda.

Everyone on the planet has a right to clean water,” said Johnson.

By Rachel Linberger