As a meeting in the Engineering and Mathematical Science Building comes to a close on a cold November night on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, members of the Engineers Without Borders Club (EWB) can’t help but think about the warm days that lie within their near future in a different country.
For the past two years, EWB at UWM has been working with La Asociacion de Comites Communitarios Medio Ambiental de la Region Ixil (ACCMARI), an organization that provides water systems to villages across Guatemala, to provide water to the village of Ocopx’oo Nuevo Jerusalem over their winter break.
Eric Heckman, the president of EWB, had a smile from ear to ear as UWM engineering students talked about what flights they were going to book for their winter break trip.
“Boy, we are down there for implementation of a gravity fed water system,” said Heckman.
UWM students will be helping this small village obtain water by implementing a water system that they have engineered. Gravity is used as the main driving force, therefore EWB does not require any electricity or moving parts to implement the system, making it is easier to provide running water to more remote regions of the world.
“It’s about making this world smaller and becoming global engineers and people,” said Heckman.
While logistics was the focus of the meeting held on Nov.13 the majority of students talked about how much fun it will be to help provide water to a small village in Guatemala.
“They also change our lives to the same degree that we change their lives,” said former Project Lead Jim Kennedy when referring to how the native villagers felt about their work.
Since 2007, EWB at UWM has brought water to underdeveloped communities and has recently focused their efforts on Guatemala.
“When we started in 2007, a few people thought it would be a good idea to focus on bringing water to people because we are in one of the best cities for research and development of freshwater sciences,” said Kennedy.
EWB focuses on the futures of their students as well and most of them look at this opportunity as a chance to build their resumes as well as make a change in the world.
“The best part to me is being able to do this as a student and have the opportunity to travel and meet a new culture,” said Kennedy.
A lot goes into the planning process from flights, to blueprints for their water system and, even thinking about worst-case scenarios in their journey, they travel with caution; at their meeting, they discussed becoming CPR certified and getting the proper shots to venture out into the wilderness that engulfs Guatemala.
“If a few late nights in the lab mean being able to send another kid to school with a full belly then its absolutely worth it,” said Westfallen.
Heckman and Westfallen closed the meeting by explaining to the new members of the organization that they will be hosting meetings in the future to become accustomed to the culture in Guatemala.
“There was a culture shock for me the first time I was there,” said Kennedy.
According to CIA.gov, Guatemala suffers from extreme poverty that is common in Latin America. Worldbank.org says that over 75 percent of Guatemala lives in poverty.
Finding funds to get to and from Guatemala is a problem for EWB because flights to a destination like Guatemala can range anywhere $600 dollars to over $1,000. and the University only covers a certain amount of the cost.
“It’s difficult for us to get flights because people are home for winter break and prices are high at that time of the year,” said David Westfallen a project lead for EWB at UWM.
EWB receives some money from Senate Appropriation Committee (SAC) at UWM, but the process is complicated and it can cost more to buy a flight in late November by the time their grant is allocated instead of buying a fight earlier in the month without a grant.
EWB at UWM leaves the States on Dec. 27 and will work hard to bring water to this impoverished village until Jan. 11.