Next week, dozens of Engineers in Action supporters will come together across the nation for a 36 hour fast. Participants will abstain from everything except water to highlight the ease of access, cleanliness and safety of water sources found in our communities.
“We so often take for granted the water that comes out of our tap, or the ability to go grab a water bottle from your corner convenience store,” said Rod Beadle, executive director of Engineers in Action. “We serve populations in Latin America who have to travel miles to get access to any water at all, and the vast majority of the time the water they do access is unclean with a high risk of water-borne illness.”
The fast is an opportunity to raise awareness for EIA’s cause while simultaneously raising funds for the organization and its partners traveling to Bolivia and Ecuador to provide infrastructure and leadership to communities in need.
“We offer sustained support, with partnerships that require ongoing financial backing and a physical presence,” Beadle said. “We have teams traveling their regularly, and a number of staff permanently placed in or near the communities we work in.”
EIA is encouraging anyone who might be interested to sign up for the fast now.
“It’s a very simple way to connect with EIA’s mission, and every penny makes a huge impact on our continued growth,” Beadle said.
EIA has an office in La Paz, Bolivia that services 26 projects across the country, with planned expansion into Ecuador in 2017.
Eight Cornell undergraduates, representing the Engineers Without Borders-Cornell Student Chapter, traveled to Bolivia over summer break for a bridge-building project in a tiny village in the southwest corner of South America’s poorest nation.
The team, led by mechanical engineering major Nathalie DeNey ’18, built a 165-foot-long suspension bridge made of concrete, steel cable and wood. The bridge spans the Vitichi River and connects the village of Calcha with its agricultural crops as well as a neighboring town – important particularly during the rainy season, when the river becomes dangerous to ford.
Over the two months, the team also built other things – relationships – that they hope will be just as enduring in the remote village, 200 miles south of the Bolivian capital city of La Paz.
“It was an adventure to be down there for eight weeks, and it was really worth it,” DeNey said. “The lasting friendships that we formed from being there for an extended period of time were incredible. We’re still in contact with a lot of them; occasionally, they get internet access so we have Facebook friends in Calcha.”
Other EWB-Cornell travel team members included mechanical engineering major Jonathan Mabuni ’16, environmental engineering major Susan McGrattan ’17, and civil engineering majors Joseph Ienna ’17, Meriel Engrand ’18, Mario Saldana ’18, Bethany Schull ’18 and Anna Sofia Montoya-Olsson ’19.
“These students brought to fruition a permanent structure and lasting goodwill to a well-deserving community who worked alongside and opened their homes,” said Rebecca Macdonald, the Swanson Director of Engineering Student Project Teams. “Their motivation and commitment drove the project, with Cornell faculty, staff and alumni, along with family and friends, providing the support necessary to pull it off.”
Cornell began its affiliation with Engineers Without Borders during the 2011-12 academic year, and for the last two years has collaborated with Engineers In Action (EIA), a nonprofit based in the U.S. that provides logistical and other support to engineering teams traveling to Bolivia for projects such as Cornell’s bridge build.
Rod Beadle, executive director of EIA and a registered professional civil engineer, said the work teams like Cornell’s EWB group perform is important for communities like Calcha, where 98 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, according to the EIA website.
“It’s very common for many communities in the developing world to be on the banks of a river or stream that may bisect the community, or separate the community from its schools or agricultural fields,” Beadle said. “When you get heavy flooding, for long periods people’s access to all sorts of things can be cut off.”
Arrived in mid-June
The team arrived in Bolivia in mid-June and got right to work, digging the foundations for the concrete anchors on both sides of the river, from which their bridge would be suspended.
“We spent our entire first week just excavating,” DeNey said, “and after that, it seemed like we were constantly mixing concrete. There wasn’t a day that went by where we weren’t mixing concrete.”
Most of that mixing was done by hand, until the team was able to run electricity from town to the Calcha side of the river. They borrowed a small cement mixer and were able to mix concrete for part of the project.
McGrattan said a typical day included rising for breakfast at around 7:30 a.m., arriving at the work site at 8:30 or 9 and working till lunch at noon. Then after a siesta break, work would resume at 2 p.m. and last until 6.
Both DeNey and McGrattan said one of the biggest highlights of the project was installing the crossbeams onto the tensioned cables, prior to attaching the decking boards to the structure. Being suspended approximately 16 feet above the river, kicking crossbeams out onto the cables, “was amazing,” DeNey said.
“We put people in harnesses, and we got to kick the beams across,” DeNey said. “We’re just holding onto the handrail cable, walking out across on one of the walkway cables.”
“You’ve been digging these holes, mixing concrete for so long,” McGrattan said. “And then actually getting to put the wood out on the bridge and have it actually become a bridge, it was just very exciting.”
Both women said the most off-hours fun they had was on the Fourth of July. The group painted their faces red, white and blue and had a bonfire and s’mores. Their cook also did her best to make them feel at home, with her version of hamburgers.
“That was really nice,” McGrattan said. “It was nice to get a feel for home after being there for a few weeks.”
Hoping to return
EWB-Cornell is returning to Bolivia next year for a water project, but neither DeNey nor McGrattan is planning on making that trip. They do, however, hope to get back to Calcha one day and see how their bridge has affected their new friends.
“The structure should be there for decades to come,” DeNey said. “And as we were finishing it, we were all talking about how cool it would be to come down in 10 years and see the bridge, see firsthand how it’s impacted the people there.”
Beadle said he’s impressed by student groups’ willingness to sacrifice a portion of their summer break to do meaningful work thousands of miles from home. And as most college groups spend just a week or two, he said, Cornell’s team deserves particular praise for devoting two months to their project.
“I always tell people that, as cynical as we get about kids these days, this generation is just so much more engaged and willing to do things that our generation just didn’t or couldn’t,” he said. “And to take eight weeks out of your summer, you’re not getting paid for it … it says an awful lot that they’re willing to do that.”
Mariel graduated as a Natural Resources Engineer in 2011 from the National University of Salta, Argentina. Her Thesis research was focused on the valuation of water services in a rural community in Tarija-Bolivia, after the completion of her studies she kept working voluntarily with the community. As a result of the work done by the community and her, RARE International chose Mariel as a programme coordinator.
In late 2011 she joined ASOCIO, an NGO focused on the improvement of the livelihoods of rural communities. Her work was focused on identifying potential water sources for irrigation and drinking water. After ASOCIO she started working in the Municipal Government of Tarija, Bolivia as an environmental technician in the Secretary of Environment.
In 2013 she started working in EIA as a Project Manager, managing projects in La Paz and Tarija.
In 2014 she left to The Netherlands to start an MSc in Water Services Management in UNESCO-IHE.
Her thesis research used a water governance perspective to analyze a waste water allocation conflict in Tarija, Bolivia. She is now in the process of writing a paper for a scientific journal together with her mentor and an Argentinean scientist.
After completing her studies in 2016 she was again incorporated in the EIA staff as a Program Coordinator.
Mariel is interested in gaining knowledge about water access dynamics (formal and informal) in developing countries and wishes that through her work she can contribute to water justice and equality.
Juan Antonio Chinchilla Martinez, comes to EIA from Honduras. He completed his studies at the Panamerican Agriculture School, El Zamorano. He is an Environment and Development Engineer. Juan has worked in different areas throughout his professional life, beginning in the waste management field. He quickly realized that rural development is a holistic matter that needs to be seen from different perspectives to make a project successful.
His dream and life goal is to empower communities and give them the right tools to achieve development. He realized some time ago that his expertise can be highly useful for the improvement of those who haven’t been so blessed in life. Juan works every single day changing the world one smile at a time, one community at a time.
Legend says that in an abandoned mine entrance, in a mountain in Oruro, lived a thief named Anselmo Selarmino (Nina Nina or Chiru Chiru) who stole from the wealthy to distribute among the poor. In one of his nights out he was mortally wounded by a worker whom he intended to rob.
In his agony, he was taken by a virginal woman to his home in the mine. The next day, the miners where shocked to find the beautiful image of the Virgen de la Candelaria guarding the bed of the poor dead thief.
The miners, at the discovery of the Virgin, decided to reverence her for three days a year in February, wearing devil disguises, because the devil, for the Aymara culture, is the watchman of inner earth.
Devil miners, motivated by the generosity and grace of the Virgin of the mine, begin at the mines and parade through town bearing gifts of silver, candles and religious ornaments to statue of the Virgin, and imbibe in food and beverages.
This was how the first devotional fraternities were born by the humblest and poorest citizens of the city: Troops of Devils, Morenos and Tobas.
By 1940, many merchants, teachers, and bankers joined the festival and it grew to be the biggest, wildest party in Bolivia.
It’s February 14, 2015, 8 am and stands at Civic Avenue start to fill.
Many tourists, foreign and domestic arrived the night before and many others are on their way from every corner of Bolivia.
In a few hours the city will be filled with thousands of dancers with stunning costumes, majestic masks and rhythms and the energy of The Andes.
The city of the Chiru Chiru, the thief, his legacy will be remembered for next three days with joy and dancing and celebration.
What happens when a newly completed water system breaks down? For EIA and our partner EWB-S&T, we ‘figure it out’!
Tacachia has approximately 90 residents whose only water source comes from the Chacajawira River. In 2014, the community, EWB-S&T and EIA built a water distribution system which served each home. However, the river water they were collecting needed filtration. The partners decided to collect water from a spring which was over 2kms away.
The community, EWB-S&T and EIA developed a plan that the 2015 work trip would dig trenches and install pipes from the collection pool to the tank location. They would install a large water tank and connect the pipeline and water distribution system to the tank. The water tank will collect water overnight to provide increased amounts of water during the day. This is particularly important during the ‘dry season’ when the spring produces significantly less water.
Carlos Ernesto Aguillera, EIA Project Manager, arrived in Tacachia the week before the team with a truckload of pipe, the water tank and all of the connections. He made sure the community knew what the materials were for, and that they were securely cared for by community elders.
“When Ernesto and EWB-S&T arrived in Tacachia in August,
most of the pipe was gone!”
The community had already dug the trench and installed the pipeline. The community was so well organized and committed to the project, they did it themselves. When the team inspected the pipeline they saw some places where the community had gently bent the pipe instead of putting in some angles as the team had planned. But it worked just fine.
“It was a great deal and we were overjoyed” said Dr. Mark Fitch, Mentor for EWB-S&T. “It means that they knew how to put in the pipe, and therefore they know how to maintain it. And there was a general worry that we would have the time to build a 2km pipeline while the team was there. And lo and behold the whole thing was built before we got there!”
Additional trenching was necessary along a treacherous section of the bank of the river. Community members volunteered to construct it so as not put the students at risk. “They clung on to vines and roots protruding from the face of the embankment as if they were repelling and built a path wide enough for the pipe” Fitch said. “It was amazing to watch them.”
Click for 20 seconds of pulling
The community and team leveled and compressed the dirt foundation for the tank on a hill overlooking the village. They pushed and pulled the tank to its location, made the connections and the water quickly filled the tank. Everything was completed and everyone was happy. But this is Bolivia, and things go wrong.
Either the weight of the tank caused it to shift, twisting the connections and creating leaks, or a small leak developed first and it eroded the foundation causing the tank to shift. Whichever, by December the system was broken and not working. But the community knew to contact the EIA offices in La Paz. Ernesto went out to Tacachia and realized what had happened.
Using a little engineering creativity, he and the community bypassed the tank and connected the pipeline directly into the water system as a temporary fix. There is plenty of water during the rainy season. When EWB-S&T returns in 2016, they will reset and connect the tank so that it will be prepared to work during the dry season.
Dr. Fitch: “The great thing we have in working with EIA is that the project continues throughout the year. In other countries where we work, our partner NGOs primarily just help us with travel instead of assisting the community and the project. Therefore (with EIA) we can make progress with the project and the community throughout the year and know they are there if there is a problem. They seem to always just be a ‘Skype’ away.”
The Tacachia project is moving from the implementation into the sustainability phase this year. EIA will stay in contact with the community and make sure all works well.
And EWB-S&T? Dr. Fitch: “We’re already working on a 502 for our next project with EIA in Bolivia!”
The United Methodist Committee on Relief announced yesterday it has approved a $50,000 grant to Engineers in Action for 2016. This grant will go to help fund EIA’s costs related to restoring the Juckucha River in Potosi Bolivia and finding alternative water sources for three “downstream” villages: Aripalca, Calcha and Yulo, in partnership with EWB Chapters at Florida Univ, Univ of Minn., and Cornell Univ. Watch for more on this later.
It seems that whenever there is a major disaster in the world, EIA’s Executive Director, Rod Beadle, is there. He has served as a water, sanitation, and hygiene specialist in the aftermath of numerous disasters in the developing world including the Haiti Cholera Outbreak, Pakistan’s Indus River Flooding, Horn of Africa Drought, Sierra Leone Choloera Outbreak, and the Philippines Tsunami.
Rod in Zorzor_ Liberia 2014
In 2014 when the whole world was living in extreme fear of the Ebola disease and people were being evacuated, Rod was on a helicopter in Liberia flying to the center of the region where the Ebola epidemic first broke out to build a medical clinic.
Samos Refugee Detention Center
Last Sunday, Dec 13, Rod left for the Greek Island of Samos to volunteer with an international relief organization to support water, sanitation and hygiene provisions for refugee transit camps. The refugees are crossing over to the island as they flee war and strife in their homelands in places like Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and North Africa. He will even spend Christmas there, working to provide families with basic necessities that we take for granted like clean water, adequate shelter, and safe sanitation facilities. He truly believes “Clean Water Shouldn’t be a Luxury!”
When others run away in fear from conflict and disaster; when they turn away from victims from other countries; Rod runs toward them to do all that he can to help! That’s why I invited Rod to consider becoming our new Executive Director.
EIA welcomes Rod Beadle as our new Assistant Executive Director!
In his role as Assistant Executive Director, Rod will help to support operations in the FIEA Bolivian office, coordinate and develop enhanced partnerships with other NGOs, promote awareness of EIA’s programs, and explore opportunities to expand operations to other countries.