EwB engineers simple life

Some use their engineering education to climb America’s corporate ladder, some use it to pursue academia and research in prestigious institutions, but a select few take their engineering degrees across the world to provide basic services to the hundreds of people in developing countries on the other side of the world.

Opening a chapter at Tech in 2005, Engineers without Borders (EwB) is presently serving villagers in the northwestern mountains of Cameroon by developing a process that transports water.

Presently, the villagers in the upper regions of the mountain are upward of a 100-foot vertical incline from the nearest source of water, and groups must take five to six trips up and down the mountain per day. The final product will include a solar-powered well and a water distribution system.

“[We want] to empower the village,” said Chris Quintero, an EwB member who is presently active in the Cameroon efforts and a fourth-year ME major.

To begin the process, the national EwB organization sends out project assignments to all the university chapters in the country.

The EwB chapter sent members to Cameroon on two site assessment trips to collect data about the area, to conduct hygiene workshops and to present project proposals to community leaders. Back at Tech, EwB is split off into different groups, focusing on fundraising, pump and tank design, education, sustainability and other factors incorporated into the project.

The chapter will soon send members to Cameroon for the implementation phase of the project, and they will dig, drill and install the distribution system.

However, the effort is not entirely one-sided; the community leaders are heavily active in the process.

“It’s unusually organized for a village, but…they just don’t have the engineering, the expertise or the money to get it done,” Quintero said. “We’re most fortunate that our community’s leaders are so organized and motivated to implement and maintain these projects.”

While the efforts of EwB are noble, funding is short, preventing a speedy installation of the water distribution system. Previously, individual donors from local organizations and engineering firms, such as the Rotary Club and Siemens, funded Tech’s endeavors. Ideally, the project would be implemented in one trip, but may now require two or more trips for completion due to funding issues, according to Quintero.

“We’d love to go ahead and construct the water distribution system and train the community, but funding is the key issue,” Quintero said.

The national organization offers guidance and grant applications but no direct funding.

Despite setbacks in money, EwB’s work is rewarding in its own way. When students associated with the project travel to Cameroon, they stay with village leaders and interact with the villagers.

“The people in Cameroon are incredible. Besides being accepted with overflowing love every time we visit, the people of Mungoa-goa are exceptionally smart. A lot our design ideas for their water system have come directly from the village leaders,” said Courtney Pare, the project leader for the Cameroon water distribution system and a fourth-year EnvE major. “The implementation phase is simply exciting in itself—the Tech group has been working on these designs with the village for about two years now, and we all are excited to see the beginning of the construction.”

Other initiatives run by EwB include a high school outreach program in engineering and a Honduras water purification project conducted in collaboration with the Georgia Tech Research Institute.