By Andrew Hoffman
Members of the Engineers Without Borders / Bridges to Prosperity (EWB/B2P) student organization at the Colorado School of Mines recently traveled to Nicaragua to complete a social survey for a community development project. The team of five included four students: Ethan Faber, Eric Rosing, Ashley Lessig, and Jeremy Beard as well as professional mentor Stephanie Fleckenstein. Over the course of the survey trip the team spent their spring break collecting information about a group of four rural communities in the Carazo region of Nicaragua. The main goals were to collect information about development needs in the communities and identify what opportunities they saw for themselves. The Los Gomez area communities were the site of a pedestrian bridge construction project which was completed by the community members and EWB/B2P students at Mines in May, 2013.
A central focus of the organization is to help foster sustainable development by building a lasting relationship with communities. Additionally, the students work closely with the community members in developing feasible projects. It is critical that the community owns the project however. In this way Mines students are able to use their technical training to help implement a project that is truly needed and which will be maintained long after the students have left.
In this current project, which is still in its initial stage, the travel team helped identify a list of the most prominent issues the communities face such as access to a reliable water supply and to health services. Faber mentions that such trips really help open your eyes to the scale of poverty in the US versus developing countries. Lack of basic engineering infrastructure, such as primary schools without clean water, are virtually unheard of here, but in the Los Gomez communities it is a fact of daily life. For American college students, the opportunity to help such communities develop their own solutions to their problems is rewarding both as real-world engineering experience and also for personal improvement. An interesting thing happens when you see families and even young children coping with such severe life problems and yet appear to be fundamentally happy, Faber muses. "You can learn a lot from these people, and it really puts your own life and daily problems in perspective." A project can really be considered a success when both groups in an international development project come out having gained something and also having new lifelong connections.
The team had a great time and got a lot of crucial social data over their trip. They are continuing communication with the communities and identifying next steps for the project. As the project becomes defined the group will create a master plan document which will guide what actions need to be taken to realize the final goal.
The club is made up of a wide range of students. All majors and fields of study have something to contribute regardless of the type of engineering project. Knowing Spanish is an excellent asset but not at all required for group members. The travel team recalls that a main highlight of the trip was hanging out with the community after a day's work collecting data. A lot can be shared even without words. The important thing is making the connection to develop a working relationship. Lessig recalls that she particularly enjoyed getting to play and interact with the kids.
EWB/B2P Mines would like to thank donors Alcoa, CH2MHill, Schlumberger, and Shell who sponsor travel and material expenses for current projects, and also to Bridges to Prosperity for all their work in the past and current bridge projects.
Are you interested in joining? The club has two current projects: a second bridge construction and the new Los Gomez project. EWB/B2P has committee meetings Mondays at 6:00 PM (MZ 322), Tuesday at 5:00 (MZ 335), and Wednesday and Thursday at 5:00 (both in MZ 322). Also, the club is having a silent auction lunch benefit pig roast on Saturday, April 19 from noon to 2:00. Both are great ways to learn about the club and have fun. For more information see our website (just search "EWB Mines").
This interview originally appeared in the April 13, 2014, issue of The Oredigger.