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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Engineers Without Borders bring clean water to Guatemala

<ending a term or a summer abroad is hardly an unusual experience at Carleton College.  But some people spend that term differently than others. 

For Dan Ackerman ’13 and four other members of the Carleton chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a summer abroad meant a summer collecting water samples in small Guatemalan towns, where most water sources are contaminated by pesticides and bacteria.
“Water and education”, Ackerman , “are the two biggest things the region needs.” 

The village of Primavera, where the group made its first stop, gets all its water from a spring, which runs through a rubber tree plantation.  Because of concerns about pesticides seeping into the spring, the residents of Primavera do not use tap water for drinking; instead, they drink from wells.  Engineers Without Borders took samples of the water and found that it was free of pesticides, so residents can drink from the tap as long as they boil the water first to kill bacteria. 

To the surprise of Ackerman and his group, the villagers had already drawn plans for their own water system, and only lacked the funding to complete it.  However, the villagers suggested that the team go to another village, Sa’acte, which might also need their services.

In Sa’acte, the team did the same things they had done in Primavera, taking water samples and distributing surveys to find out where people got their water and how they used it.   Although this trip was made purely to obtain data, Ackerman hopes to return next year with Engineers Without Borders to construct a rainwater catchment system on the roof of Sa’acte’s primary school, and possibly other buildings as well.

Engineers Without Borders hopes to use this information next summer, when they will return to Guatemala and take part in a project which they hope will give the locals better access to potable water. “We’re hoping for a five-year commitment”, he said.

Projects like this one are just a small sample of what Engineers Without Borders does.  The Carleton chapter has been active since 2007, and spent the previous few years building high-altitude greenhouses in Peru.  They also work on projects in Northfield during the year, focusing on sustainability.  One of Ackerman’s current projects is a biofuel generator to turn excess food from the dining hall into diesel fuel for the college’s vehicles.  At home and abroad, Engineers Without Borders provides students with a place to use their skills to improve communities.

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