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Clean, pure, and abundant water—it’s something that many of us in the United States take for granted. But in the relatively small country of El Salvador, 24% of the rural population does not have reliable access to safe drinking water, causing large-scale health problems.
Santa Rosa Senca Lacks Access to Clean Water
El Salvador is mostly mountainous, with a narrow coastal belt and a central plateau region. Tucked away in a mountainous part of the country lies the small community of Santa Rosa Senca, a place where 23 families living on the outskirts of town do not have access to water due to an inadequate water distribution system. Women and girls spend hours each day hauling water from the springs down to their homes using plastic containers. This time-consuming and exhausting physical labor often prevents them from focusing on other efforts that can improve their lives, such as attending school or working to raise income.
Creating a Long-Term Solution
SEH’s Karen Cavett, PE, and Chris Cavett, PE, of the Mankato, Minnesota office serve as mentors to the Minnesota State University Mankato student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (MNSU-EWB). MNSU-EWB has traveled to Santa Rosa Senca twice, in 2010 and 2012, to gather technical information needed to assist in designing infrastructure improvements. The MNSU-EWB team surveyed the area and identified five key areas of focus:
Engineers Uniquely Qualified
“We are so fortunate to have clean drinking water in the United States, but sometimes we don’t realize how lucky we are,” said Karen, who is a Project Manager for SEH’s Water and Wastewater Services. “Because of our skill sets as engineers, we have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives by helping them improve their local infrastructure. Volunteering with the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders provides us with the opportunity to mentor the next generation of engineers.” Chris added, “It’s also important for us to emphasize that when we bring our engineering skills to projects like this one, we are collaborating with local partners, and that helps build capacity for long-term and sustainable improvements in the communities where we are trying to make an impact.”
More Hands for Engineers Without Borders
Many other SEH engineers are involved in their local chapters of Engineers Without Borders. John Chlebeck, PE, an SEH Project Engineer in the St. Paul, Minnesota office, has been working with the University of Minnesota Professional and Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. His chapter is currently working on water access issues in the highland village of Simajuleu, Guatemala—an isolated community of 2,500 indigenous people located three hours northwest of Guatemala City. “When asked what single change would improve their lives the most, more than 80% of Simajuleu residents said more reliable clean water,” recalls Chlebeck. The chapter has been working for several years to improve the distribution, quantity, quality, and reliability of the Simajuleu water system. Chapter volunteers have traveled there several times since 2008 to work on different phases of the project.
“Five billion people on the planet live below the poverty line. It is no longer an option for engineers to address the needs of these people; it is an obligation.”
Dr. Bernard Amadei
Founder, Engineers Without Borders
The mission of Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) is to support community-driven development programs worldwide by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects.