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ESF Students to spend Spring Break working in Honduran village

Engineers Without Borders work on clean water project
2/28


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SYRACUSE — The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is working to provide potable water for the residents of Buena Vista, Honduras.

The isolated village community of 300 people near the north coast of Honduras on the dry side of the Pico Bonito mountains currently uses water from surface sources contaminated with coliform because the residents have no means to transport clean water from farther away. Nor do they have enough money to construct a water system because the annual average income is about $800 in the region and is estimated to be even less in Buena Vista. As a result residents suffer chronic intestinal illnesses.

ESF senior Mitchell Robinson (forest engineering) of Stafford, N.Y., traveled to Buena Vista last year to investigate the water problem and returned committed to the improvement project.

Robinson said, “I cannot imagine struggling everyday to get clean water. Seeing the desperation the residents had and the conditions they are forced to live with is the sole reason I want to complete this project.”

Working with a non-profit group in Honduras and Engineers Without Borders-USA, ESF-EWB members devised a feasible solution to bring potable water to Buena Vista through a gravity flow system that uses a piping network to bring water to tap stands located throughout the village. The estimated cost of the system is $10,000 and funding sources are now being solicited.

Five ESF-EWB members will be in Buena Vista March 7 through 17. They will map the piping network and begin site development for the water holding tank with the help of the Buena Vista community.

“What do we get out of the project?” Robinson asked. “Most of us are engineering majors so it’s an extremely unique job experience but more so there is an incredible sense of satisfaction in helping others.”

Master’s student Mark Fabian (forest engineering) of Holderness, N. H., said, “I want to make a difference in the lives of those who are living in harsh conditions that are vastly unequal to those in developed countries and I plan to pursue a career developing water resources in impoverished countries. It’s an area of intense need in the world right now.”

Fabian brings experience to the EWB team, having worked for CARE in Madagascar and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ivory Coast.

Katy Johnson, senior landscape architecture major from Munnsville, N.Y., spent last spring break in Honduras taking a course in ecological engineering. She said, “I fell in love with the amazing landscapes and the vibrant and welcoming Honduran culture. Despite the incredible beauty, we were also witness to some serious issues, including extremely unsustainable and exploitative agricultural and development practices with chronic water and sanitation problems.”

Johnson continued, “Promptly upon my return to campus, I joined EWB and joined the planning process for the Buena Vista water project and I’m excited to be going back to make it happen.”

“I can’t travel to Honduras this spring break but I have worked on the preliminary calculations and travel logistics so now I’m invested and I will be going there to work at the site,” said ESF graduate student Eden Pendleton (forest engineering) from Canaan, N.H. who was introduced to ESF and EWB through alumna Mary Gifford and her group’s work in Honduras in 2006.

Other students making the trip are senior Gwen Macdonald (forest engineering) of Rosemont, Pa.; and graduate student Chellie Norris (forest and natural resources management) of Swan Lake, N.Y.

In 2006, the ESF Engineers Without Borders chapter sent eight students to Honduras to build and upgrade low-impact, ecologically sound hiking trails for tourist access in the Pico Bonito National Park.

During winter break 2004-05, the ESF-EWB chapter partnered with the EWB chapter from the University of Vermont to install a micro-hydro turbine to supply electrical power for the Archbold Research and Education Center on the island of Dominica.


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