Oct 192005
 
Authors: Kathryn Dailey

Other EBW project locations:

India

Tanzania

Nepal

Dominican Republic

Sitting high on an inactive volcano in El Salvador surrounded by coffee fields, La Laguneta is one of the two villages receiving the help of CSU's branch of Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

"Engineers Without Borders partners with disadvantaged communities to improve their quality of life through the implementation of environmentally and economically sustainable projects, while developing internationally responsible students," according to EWB's executive summary.

Gabriel Miller, senior civil engineering major and president of EWB, was one of nine CSU students to visit La Laguneta last March with their faculty adviser and a research scientist.

Home to approximately 600 people comprising about 150 families, the people of La Laguneta carry brightly-colored, 50-pound jugs – called cantaros – up a steep hill each day to bring water to their homes. Each family has about one to two cantaros.

Each jug holds 6.6 gallons, which provides for entire families ranging from two to 10 people, said Jon Cullor, civil engineering graduate student and the El Salvador Project leader. Those 6.6 gallons are used for everything from cooking to bathing and washing.

"What happens is, since they don't have very much water in the dry season, the water they do have they use for mainly the bare necessities – preparing meals and drinking," Cullor said. "So things like hygiene and stuff like that gets neglected because they just don't have the water to wash."

In comparison, Cullor said people in the United States use almost 150 gallons of water a day, per person.

La Laguneta has a total of five public and three private wells. Once each day, either in the morning or evening, villagers get a chance to fill their cantaros, and each time they pump the wells dry.

"During the dry season (six months out of the year) water is increasingly harder to come by," wrote Molly Sugrue, a rural health and sanitation volunteer with the Peace Corps working in El Salvador, in an e-mail interview. "The wells dry up faster and provide less and less water per family as the dry season continues, making it continually more difficult for families to bathe regularly, to wash clothes, to maintain good hygiene.

"As a result, during the dry season there are more instances of diarrhea, skin infections, pink eye, rashes and general poor hygiene-related illnesses. Families have no choice but to wear filthy clothes, go long stretches of time without bathing and generally make short-cuts to make the water last."

Sugrue submitted the proposal to EWB last year to help the village. EWB took it on because they were looking for a project.

The first EWB visit was a site assessment; the second last August allowed them to come up with a few options to help La Laguneta and neighboring village El Chile access a more ample, cleaner water supply.

The two options EWB is currently considering for the village are drilling shallower wells, the cheaper option, or pumping water from a nearby city. Since EWB didn't have enough information, they brought down two hydro-geologists to find out if there was enough water to drill more wells. At this time EWB, on advice from the hydro-geologists, feels there is enough water and is looking for money to drill.

EWB often receives funding from the Rotary Club and Rotary International, a nongovernmental organization that provides humanitarian service and helps build goodwill and peace worldwide, according to the Rotary International Web site.

Miller said there are also water quality issues to be addressed.

"They're at a very shallow aquifer so the water that comes out of it is often contaminated with fecal bacteria," he said.

Originally the government provided villages with chlorine, which villagers resisted. Now the government provides puriagua, advertised as a natural salt.

"The people love it, you know, it's a natural extract," Cullor laughed, "but it's chlorine."

While many of the people in La Laguneta use pariagua, most of the villagers in El Chile do not.

"We'll probably add a chlorination system to the main distribution system when we get that going," Cullor said.

Although originally reluctant, Miller isn't worried about villagers rejecting the new water systems because of the chlorination system.

"(Sugrue) has earned a lot of respect in the village and she's pretty good at convincing them of this kind of thing," Miller said. "They really want this new water system."

EWB creates opportunities for villagers to get involved in the building process so they have a stake in the project, realize they aren't getting something for free and learn how to sustain the wells after the engineers leave.

"The engineers have made it clear that the decision rests with the villagers," Sugrue wrote. "There is a democratically elected group of 11 community leaders that has worked the most with this project, however, voting takes place with all the villagers."

Now EWB wants students from other majors within CSU to get involved, such as anthropologists and sociologists, but anyone is welcome.

"There's a lot of other aspects behind it that are often a lot more complicated than the engineering, like the social aspects of the communities and how the new system is going to impact them, which can often be more complicated," Cullor said.

The people of La Laguneta and El Chile welcomed the help and members of EWB. Cullor said they were warm and friendly.

"One of the things they said to us was, 'Confiamos en dios y confiamos en ustedes,' which means 'we trust in God, we trust in you,'" Miller said.

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