Stag Engineers Keep Clean Water – and Communication – Flowing at University in South America

Stag Engineers Keep Clean Water – and Communication – Flowing at University in South America

Three Fairfield students with Stags Up hand signs, at UAC-CP in Bolivia

(l-r) Stephanie Brij-Raj '21, Lilliana Delmonico '20, and Nicolas Black '21 at UAC-CP in Bolivia

Last month, a group of School of Engineering students traveled worlds away from Fairfield’s bucolic, coastal campus to work on a very different Catholic university campus located in the lush, mountainous village of Carmen Pampa, Bolivia.

Sponsored by Fairfield’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), this was the third Stag service trip to Universidad Academia Campesina, Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) in the past two years. UAC-CP opened in 1993 with 53 students; it now boasts a student population of 700 – far greater than originally planned for, as evidenced by its grossly inadequate potable water supply and wastewater management systems. Two summers ago, Fairfield students helped construct a water filtration and purification system for the South American university and surrounding villages. The goals of the EWB project were to provide consistent, potable water solutions, to eliminate illnesses caused by poor water quality, and to perform outreach to the Carmen Pampa community.

On this most recent EWB trip to Bolivia, the goals remained the same but the work was slightly different. The August 2018 team of Fairfield student engineers toiled to assess the continuing functionality of the 2016 system, to perform maintenance repairs, and to trouble-shoot problems that go beyond leaky filters, errant pipes, and inconsistent sand grades.

“Breakdowns of communication are a big issue,” explained assistant dean of Fairfield’s School of Engineering Marcia Arambulo Rodriguez, who traveled and participated with the students on the trip. In addition to addressing concerns such as low water pressure and contamination, Arambulo Rodriguez encouraged the Fairfield EWB team to suggest ways for UAC-CP and the village residents to strengthen their partnership, in order to improve year-round maintenance of the filtration system.

“Some community members have their own ideas about how to fix the filters and add new intakes,” observed mechanical engineering major Nicolas Black ’21, stressing the value of listening to suggestions that come from people with a native understanding of the region’s climate and natural resources. 

“Engineers are always looking for new ways and new technologies,” Black added, “but service trips like this are a good reminder that there are people who can’t even take a shower or drink clean water – they have no access to basic human needs – it’s an important takeaway.”

The Fairfield EWB team also put forth a solution to narrow the information gap that results from frequent turnover in project leadership. Using video footage taken in August, they are currently preparing a tutorial of how the filtration system operates, so that future volunteer groups and community leaders will be better prepared to jump right in and help work on it.

In between full workdays that began with a long post-breakfast hike up to the filtration system project site and ended with a downhill trek back to their volunteer quarters around 5 p.m., the Fairfield EWB team managed to squeeze in time for soccer matches, shared meals, and even a night of karaoke with their UAC-CP counterparts. The benefit of being hosted on a university campus was that “there was always something going on,” according to bioengineering major Lilliana Delmonico ’20.

“I always thought I’d like to do some type of non-profit engineering work,” said Delmonico ’20. “This trip solidified that I’d like to work for a nonprofit using my engineering degree to help other people.”

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Last modified: 09-24-18 12:53 PM

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