In 2005, Oregon State’s local chapter of Engineers Without Borders took on an ambitious endeavor to improve the quality of life for the residents of two rural village communities – Las Mercedes and El Naranjito – in the mountainous region of El Salvador. The mission? To engineer and install efficient water catchment and filtration systems to provide safe, potable water to these communities, particularly during the region’s dry season. While natural mountain springs were plentiful, the lay of the land set them at great, difficultly traversed distance from the families who needed the water most. The catchment systems would serve as an accessible and centralized site for the long-term storage and purification of rainwater, ensuring a reliable water source for farming, washing, and drinking.
Over the course of ten trips to the region — ranging in focus from implementation and monitoring to progress assessment — 26 student volunteers made ground-breaking strides toward their ultimate goal: a sustainable water catchment system that would improve the lives of hundreds. In March 2011, EWB-OSU conducted a final monitoring trip to oversee progress, assess any changes, seek future improvements, and tie up any loose ends. Moreover, the volunteers sought to learn new and valuable lessons about international service work through their experiences and observations.
This most recent trip had several goals, all pursued in earnest with the background knowledge the students had accrued about the region’s culture and community. Student volunteers performed technical assessments of the water systems as well as conducted a quality of life survey, garnering community testimony about how many have been using the new water systems, and how efficient those systems have been at providing clean water. The students learned that conducting these surveys was not always a straightforward process. Factoring in language barriers and cultural differences, volunteers learned to communicate with locals with tact, precision, and sensitivity to ensure the most accurate and thorough assessment possible.
EWB-OSU lauds the trip itself as a vital success, and in coming weeks the results of the final data analysis will inform the students of the overall improvement in quality of life affected in the region. The students involved report momentous lessons learned with respect to participating in harmonious intercultural exchanges, performing technical work on water catchment systems, and conducting accurate assessments in general. We will report further on the success of the El Salvador project — as well as updated goals for future work — as information becomes available.
Stay tuned in to see our progress!