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KU Engineering Students Build Water, Sanitation Systems for Bolivian Village

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A team of engineering students from the University of Kansas is working this summer to bring safe drinking water, sanitary latrines and new bathing facilities to a remote village in Bolivia.

Eight students, a professor and a mentor in KU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter are currently in the tiny village of Azacilo, located high in the Andes Mountains at more than 12,000 feet. It’s about a four-hour drive along winding mountain roads from the capital city of La Paz.

A solar disinfecting composting latrine designed and built by EWB-KU with the community in Azacilo.

This marks the fourth trip for KU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter to Azacilo. Prior to their partnership with KU, the village did not have enough running water to meet demand, and what flowed through the rudimentary plumbing system was rarely safe to drink. There were no toilets – residents simply went to the bathroom on the ground. They bathed and gathered water for drinking and other uses from mountain springs and a nearby river.

Thanks to the Jayhawk team, conditions are much better today.

“The composting solar latrine project is scheduled to finish this summer. We will lay the remaining 10 slabs for a total of 27 latrines. The community has worked with us for the past three years and will finish the latrines after we return to the U.S.,” said Mary Adams, a senior in architectural engineering and treasurer and incoming president of KU Engineers Without Borders.

The Rotary Foundation, Lawrence Rotary, a La Paz Bolivia Rotary chapter, and two Rotary Districts from Kansas and Missouri provided more than $22,000 for materials for the latrines.  With work wrapping up on that project, the KU group is now turning its attention to a new project, led by Adams, to design and build a community shower for the residents of Azacilo.

“This project will increase community hygiene and social respect for community members traveling to La Paz to do business,” Adams said. “They will have the opportunity to shower before going to the city, working alongside people in the urban environment.”

The KU team will also discuss a future project to improve Azacilo’s water distribution system. Current infrastructure does not provide an adequate supply for the entire community.

“The water system will tap into two additional springs to increase the quantity of water in the community. This is very important for cooking, cleaning and sanitation. The families that do not have water coming to their taps currently either have to hike higher up into the mountains or far down to the river,” Adams said.

In addition to the engineering work that must be completed in Azacilo, the KU team also serves as teachers. They have developed materials to educate the townspeople on the proper ways to use and maintain the newly installed amenities.

“We go over the manual with each family individually as they receive their latrine. We also do activities with the children such as coloring books, stories and games that relate to safe hygiene and sanitation,” Adams said. “The children are the upcoming generation and will grow up with these engineering projects. It is very important to educate them about sanitation and how to use the latrines at a young age.”

Engineers Without Borders is a national organization that partners with developing communities to improve their quality of life through the implementation of environmentally and economically sustainable engineering projects – while developing internationally responsible engineers and engineering students. Before any project begins anywhere in the world, it is fully vetted by the national organization. Every aspect of the proposed project is reviewed, from technical and financial feasibility, to sustainability, to security of the project team.

The students on the trip are Mary Adams, a senior in architectural engineering, Quentin Cole, a senior in civil engineering, Isabel Divita, a senior in Spanish and civil engineering, David Gabrielli, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University in Massachusetts, Lizzy Mahoney, senior in chemical engineering, Phillip Morris, a senior in chemical engineering,

Emily Robbins, master’s student in environmental engineering, and Matt Williams,a senior in aerospace engineering.  Craig Adams, chair of the civil, environmental and architectural engineering department, is the faculty adviser on the trip.  


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