Learning and Serving in Carijana, Bolivia

Posted on: July 23, 2020

Nikita Patel, Pittsburgh Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders

In May of 2019, the University of Pittsburgh Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders had the opportunity to travel to our partner community in Carijana, Bolivia to perform an assessment trip, the first step in our 5-year partnership with Carijana to address their concerns with their current sanitation system. With the help of our partnering NGO, Engineers in Action (EIA), our team was able to successfully collect all of the necessary data to later propose a solution to the community that we believed best fits their needs.

On the trip, our team met with community leaders and members, tested all water sources to obtain baseline data, surveyed the pre-existing health practices and health beliefs of the community members, assessed the pre-existing sanitation system, created a precise map of the community, and began building a relationship with the community members and leaders. Since then, our team has used this data and continued gathering community input to identify pour-flush latrines as the best option for Carijana. We have moved forward with site selection and modeling of the pour-flush design. We hope to plan another visit to the community, when possible, to begin our implementation.

For me and the other student travel team members from our chapter, this trip was our first ever community visit. Because we were unsure of what to expect, we meticulously planned every morning and afternoon of every day of our trip, creating categorized binders of forms, instructions, and agendas for each travel team member. Though we knew not everything would go according to plan, we decided to plan for as much as we could, and in retrospect, I feel that this decision helped us immensely. Though it was important to keep in mind that our schedule would need to be flexible, delineating the necessary data and establishing approximate time frames for completion of various tasks allowed us to plan our time in the community well.

The experience and helpfulness of everyone at EIA was extremely valuable and helpful to us on the trip. Because for most of us, except our advisor, this was our first experience in-community, we relied heavily on the expertise of our advisor and the EIA project engineer and translator that accompanied us. Their technical advice and cultural understanding of the community was a resource we could count on in-community.

Overall, going on this trip surprised me in a lot of ways. The hospitality and willingness of community members to welcome us into their lives and homes, even as we asked sometimes personal questions about health and sanitation practices, astounded me. The incredible location of the community, nestled in the Andes mountains, provided an unbelievable backdrop everywhere you looked. And most importantly, I was surprised by the vibrancy of such a tight-knit community which we were able to experience through playing daily soccer games, chatting with community leaders who were always willing to assist us, and bringing home backpacks full of delicious oranges gifted to us by the community’s children throughout the day.

Our visit to Carijana, Bolivia, as cliché as it sounds, has been something I have reflected on periodically throughout the past year. Not only were we able to complete this important milestone in our project and establish a relationship with the community, but I think each one of us was personally impacted by this trip in different ways. In the future, I look forward to continuing to work with Carijana, PittEWB, and EIA as we work towards supporting the community’s need for an improved sanitation system.