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Students design sustainable greenhouse for community in Peru

<s Without Borders (EWB), a student-run initiative, is currently devoting most of its resources to designing the prototype of a sustainable greenhouse for the Ccapacmachay community in Peru. The land that members of this community once occupied for agricultural sustenance and housing reached its carrying capacity 15 years ago, so these people began to move further north into the Andes to find untapped resources. This turned out to have its own set of problems, the main one being that the people of Ccapacmachay now are unable to grow the same crops as before because of the high altitude and extreme weather conditions due to oxygen density. The fact that these remote settlements are out of touch with the Peruvian government just exacerbates this problem.

Why embark on a project in such an obscure location? Matt Strongin ’11, who co-founded the EWB club with Galen Kast ‘11, says that he had heard of this community through connections made during service trips abroad. Although Strongin has worked on community development projects before, including some in Kenya, Israel and Peru, it is much more challenging to actually create and spearhead one. Although EWB has many student and professional chapters, creating one at Carleton took some time. Strongin and Kast had to establish the legitimacy of an organization with a focus on engineering at a college with no engineering program. They also set up the club from scratch and handled much paperwork with both Carleton and the national organization of EWB before their own chapter finally took root in the spring term of 2008.

Currently they are designing a model of a greenhouse that will be implemented in Ccapacmachay, but will also be adapted in other communities. Strongin calls it challenging because “This greenhouse is different from the ones we use in America. It has to be adapted and suited for that specific climate so as to capitalize and trap certain amounts of sunlight in the greenhouse and create ideal conditions for the vegetation the Ccapacmachay grow.” The end goal is to give out this design to Holanda Peru, an NGO working in the area. Holanda Peru can then translate and disseminate information to the people who can use local resources to build a self-sustaining greenhouse, and in turn spread this knowledge to other settlements in the area.

Apart from designing the manual, EWB is carrying out extensive efforts for other aspects of this project. They are currently fundraising to pay for students going on assessment and implementation trips respectively. They are also gathering together that can be translated in Quechua, the local language, to enable smoother communication with indigenous people. As they work on these fronts at Carleton, EWB is in touch with Holanda Peru as the NGO works to promote education and will eventually donate EWB’s published instructional manuals to schools in the region. Apart from the organization, they also maintain a dialog with an independent liaison, Nico Jara Rupa, who keeps them informed on the local and cultural sensibilities regarding the proposal of this project, ensuring that this is a change in their environment that the settlers welcome.

This has been an intensely logistical process with much planning to cover and many challenges to face. EWB’s members have been eager to learn and Strongin says, “Our resources include professional expertise and even faculty members like Stacy Beckwith, Joel Weisberg, Beverly Nagel, and Mark Kanazawa who have gone out of their way to help us, out of personal belief in our cause.”

The project has been a learning experience and raising finances has been the hardest part, but Strongin is confident and holds, “The challenge is what drives us. We have a diverse range of students coming from various backgrounds and majors and this only culminates to give us unique perspectives. Also, it helps a lot that this is our first time doing something like this. There’s a certain impressionability that allows us to improvise and learn flexibly.”

So what do the students who put in work for this project take away from the experience? Peter Berg, another member, says, “It’s for a great cause and we, as students benefit from this as well: the kind of effort, improvisation and networking that goes into this project are skills that we can take away for a lifetime of activism or entrepreneurship. And this kind of endeavor gives a solid argument against people who believe that they can only do so much but never make a real difference- here are a bunch of college kids who have started up this thing from scratch and are working so hard towards a goal that will eventuate in a happier and healthier community.”

On that note, Sahil Mehra, Treasurer of EWB, ends by summing up, “As students at Carleton, what we can do is publicize this to others and keep eyes and ears open for ways to raise funds. It’s a worthy endeavor and it’s so real- it’s almost like something in your backyard! Personally speaking, this has been a rewarding experience for me because we’ve made some headway, and learned from some mistakes but we’re heading in the right direction and I’m happy to be part of this.”

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