As historic flooding again struck Metro-East last week, a group of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) School of Engineering students were on a mission to address water issues of a far different kind.
Students from the SIUE chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) were endeavoring to build a sustainable water distribution system and provide permanent access to clean drinking water in a remote Guatemalan village. The students travelled to the community of Virginia, Dec. 30-Jan. 7, to assess the viability of digging a deep well to accommodate the village’s needs.
“The community does not have any running water,” explained Caleb Mau, project manager and civil engineering student. “They have two small streams that run across their property. They have six wells in their community, but during the dry season, from November to May, only one of those retains water, and it’s privately owned.
“They have to walk a mile to wash their clothes, bathe and get drinking water from the small streams, which are contaminated,” Mau added.
Coordinating the effort is the Godfrey-based Mustard Seed Peace Project (MSPP), a grassroots, non-profit organization with 510(c) (3) status whose vision is to support youth in underprivileged countries.
“The Mustard Seed Peace Project (was) established to empower families worldwide by developing sustainable programs and raising awareness of global needs,” the MSPP website states.
In addition to the fresh-water initiative, Mustard Seed has coordinates an educational sponsorship program, a nutritional education program and several micro-economic projects for women in the village of Virginia. The organization has purchased a little over 11 acres of land in the municipality of Playa Grande, located in Guatemala’s Ixcan region. The group is also working on projects in Zambia.
Mustard Seed founder and president Terri Cranmer, as well as professional environmental/water resources engineer Allen Oertel, accompanied the four SIUE EWB students on the trip.
In addition to Mau, from the Kankakee County community of Bonfield, SIUE civil engineering students on the trip included Alejandro Alvarez of Chicago, Julian Chastain of O’Fallon, and Sarah Lepp of Waterloo. While in Guatemalan village, the team conducted extensive water testing and surveying.
“We’re going to test water from the streams, wells and any other potential water sources,” Mau said prior to the trip. “The hope is that with the well, since water is coming from deep underground, it won’t be contaminated, and we won’t have to treat it.”
The project involves multiple stages. Future phases will entail post-assessment reports and analysis, final design approval, another trip to the village, and implementation, as well as project monitoring and evaluation; with a total cost of approximately $77,000.
The key component to ensuring continued success once the project is complete is fiscal sustainability, according to Mau. The EWB of the USA requires that a community contribute 5-10 percent of the total cost of a project to ensure it is committed to maintaining the system.
Along with providing a much-needed resource to the small Guatemalan community, the project is exposing future engineers to the important project management aspect of the industry.
“It is vitally important for students to be able to interact with practicing professionals outside of academia to get a different perspective on what awaits them after they graduate,” said Oertel. “The ability to be flexible and adaptive is one of the greatest skills they can learn, whether they go to work for the Peace Corps or land in a corporate environment.”
For Mustard Seed president Cranmer, this month’s trip represents just the latest in a series of humanitarian efforts to aid Guatemala. She established the MSPP in 2004 after participating in a mission trip to the Central American nation and becoming fascinated with the Guatemalan people – as well as haunted by their trials and tribulations.
Since then, Cranmer has made at least one trip a year to Guatemala, creating a lasting network of business associates, partner NGO’s, and friends.
Also active in the MSPP are charter member Megan Cowan, a field biologist at National Great Rivers center and her husband, machinist and webmaster Ben Cowan; Sue Fleming, executive director of the Recreation Council of Greater St. Louis; Sean Hill, vice president of student engagement at Lewis & Clark Community College; Grafton-area entrepreneur Shannon Knight- Schmid; and Sara McGibany, executive director of Alton Main Street.
SIUE EWB is currently raising funds to continue the deep well project in Guatemala. Contributions can be made at https://sites.google.com/site/ewbusasiue/donate.
For additional information on the Mustard Seed Peace Project, visit the Mustard Seed Peace Project web site.
— SIUE students grow through Mustard Seed Project —