Water gods - students design plumbing systems for Honduras villagers

December 1, 2008

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

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