Engineers in Ethiopia

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By Max Balter

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) in Ethiopia in August 2011. EWB members travelled to Ethiopia funded by a Project for Peace grant from the Davis Foundation to study well systems in remote areas and gain experience before building a well in Boru village.

The Engineers Without Borders (EWB) organization at Union is looking to travel back to Ethiopia in December 2012 to finally implement a much needed water system in Boru village. EWB has been working for several years to complete the Boru water project, which was initiated by Tehtena Tenaw ‘09. Tenaw, a native Ethiopian, wanted to make a difference in the lives of those close to her home town of Dessie in northern Ethiopia. She decided to embark on a project to provide clean, potable water to Boru village.

Since contaminated water causes 80% of the world’s disease (according to the World Health Organization), sanitary water resources have become a necessity. The village of Boru relies on local sources that are contaminated with disease and parasites. Moreover, they are not readily accessible. Working closely with faculty advisor Ronald Bucinell, a mechanical engineering professor, a group of four students, including Tenaw, travelled to Ethiopia in March of 2009 to perform a site assessment of the area. The group conducted water samples, collected geophysical data of the area and interviewed the villagers to determine the problems associated with their current water sources.

However, several problems surfaced, such as the need for sufficient funding and the need for a non-governmental organization (NGO) to assist and maintain the project. In 2011, EWB won the $10,000 Davis Project For Peace Grant to travel during the summer of 2011 to implement the long-awaited water system. But once again, there was a major problem. During the rainy season in Ethiopia, it is too dangerous to construct a well. This left EWB with the serious issue of how to deal with the money. They could return the money to the Davis Foundation or they could travel to Ethiopia to learn more about designing and building wells. EWB chose the second option. Rebecca Wentworth ‘11, Max Balter ‘12 and Connor Owen ‘13 travelled to Ethiopia in August 2011.

While there, EWB partnered with the NGO Save the Children to survey eight water systems in remote villages close to the capital of Addis Ababa. The students learned a great deal about the pumps, storage tanks and different well options. Most importantly, they were able to witness the passion and joy of villagers who were fortunate enough to have access to clean, potable water. Communicating with the villagers was an incredible experience where the students were able to hear personal stories of how access to clean water has truly changed their lives. Save the Children agreed to help oversee and maintain the project while Tenaw recruited more professional engineers to assist with the well design process.

The only thing that EWB is missing is sufficient funds to pay for the well. Currently, they have $5,000 in their account, but they estimate that they will need $10,000 to complete the project in December 2012. EWB isn’t just about making a difference abroad; it has also been making a difference in the local community as well. Last term, they volunteered in Schoharie to help clean up from the hurricane Irene aftermath. This term EWB is planning on engaging in a local project with Habitat For Humanity of Schenectady.

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