Dolan Faculty and Alumni Collaborate with Engineers Without Borders in Guatemala
This past summer William Vásquez Mazariegos, PhD, associate professor of economics, Greg Burke ’12, CPA, instructor of the practice in accounting, and Alex Ferrante ’17 collaborated with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to survey people in rural Guatemala to determine the feasibility and sustainability of bringing a water system to seven remote communities.
The opportunity for Fairfield faculty and alumni to participate in the project stemmed from a conversation between Dr. Vásquez Mazariegos and Michael Paddock, Engineering Service Corp deputy director at EWB. Paddock read research papers by Dr. Vásquez Mazariegos on the topic of people’s willingness to pay for water and sanitation services in Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Paddock invited him to collaborate on a project in rural communities in Joyabaj, Guatemala, a municipality in the Guatemalan department of Quiché with a population of approximately 79,000 people. Many community members who reside in rural Joyabaj currently do not have access to clean drinking water and travel up to thirty minutes, several times a week, to access a water supply.
Dr. Vásquez Mazariegos’ role in the project was to develop the survey that would be used to inform the EWB team if a water system could be sustained in the seven communities. Hydrogeologists identified ideal locations to develop a water system by following the cracks in the mountains to find a water source. The plan was to find water in the valley and build a tank to treat the water and then distribute clean drinking water to the people living in the mountains.
“All too often we see organizations do great work to implement life-changing systems and technology within rural communities that then deteriorates because they cannot be sustained,” said Dr. Vásquez Mazariegos. “Communities need to be able to maintain the infrastructure on a long-term basis and have people with the necessary skills to operate it.”
To implement the survey Dr. Vásquez Mazariegos enlisted the help of Professor Greg Burke and student Alex Ferrante, a member of the Global Scholars Program at Fairfield. Burke, a CPA who studied economics and accounting during his time at Fairfield, has done service work in Spanish-speaking countries and was interested in contributing to the project, as was Alex Ferrante who was an economics student at the time. Together Burke and Ferrante spent two weeks in Guatemala going door-to-door to survey people living in rural communities in Joyabaj.
The survey had three goals: to learn how people are currently procuring water, to elicit how much they are willing and able to pay for tap water, and to learn their preferences for the type of management they would like to see implemented to maintain the water system.
“My participation in the trip stemmed from my curiosity with research,” said Ferrante. “While in Guatemala I was able to interact with many different people. Something I took away [from the project] is that being American, we oftentimes forget that a world exists outside of our borders. In an age where all things are connected, it is important to live and act as global citizens.”
From the survey Dr. Vásquez Mazariegos analyzed the data and the findings revealed that those rural communities of Joyabaj would not able to pay to implement and maintain the water system. EWB will now reevaluate their plans and propose a new system to be implemented.
“This is the type of project that demonstrates the Jesuit value of women and men for others,” said Dr. Vásquez Mazariegos. “Many times faculty research is just for other academics and remains in libraries and electronic databases. It may advance science but doesn’t get applied. Projects like this allow us to do good for people and put evidence into practice.”
Dr. Vásquez Mazariegos and Professor Burke would like to thank Waleska and Steve Crowe of the EWB Guatemala team, and the other team members in Guatemala, who made this collaboration possible.