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Engineers without Borders continue work in Honduras

On March 18, 2010

The University of Toledo's chapter of Engineers without Borders is trying to bring an irrigation system to the small village of Los Sanchez, Honduras.

UT Engineers without Borders Vice President of Membership Adam Dellinger, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said the irrigation system will allow the villagers of Los Sanchez to sell crops and bring in profit, as well as improve their diet.

"Down in Honduras, they have a wet season and a dry season," he said. "Right now it's the dry season and they can't [farm] because the fields are dry. Looking at some irrigation will help them farm."

Eduardo Diaz, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering who is also a member of Engineers without Borders at UT, said giving the villagers an irrigation system is the best thing the engineers can do.

"Their main diet is beans and tortillas," he said. "By doing this project they will have a better source of nutrients."

Some members of Engineers without Borders returned from a trip to Los Sanchez earlier this week where they did a survey and assessment of what the villagers want, Diaz said.

"We did a survey of the land to find out the possible areas and we realized they wanted the irrigation system above anything else," he said.

The irrigation system will be complementary to a pipeline water system the group completed for the Los Sanchez villagers last June.

"The women and children used to have to walk quite a ways to get water, but now there are taps at everyone's house," Dellinger said.

Dellinger said the project took three trips to Honduras over the course of one year to complete.

"We sent people down three times for that project to provide the materials and the people of the village did the labor," he said. "That was to give them a form of ownership. If they put in something for the project they are more likely to use it and if something goes wrong with the project, they know how to fix it because they built it."

Diaz said the river the villagers got their water from prior to the water system was being polluted by human waste, which was causing the villagers to become ill.

"We talked to some families in the village and they said the kids were getting affected by things like diarrhea because they were getting water from a river that was polluted for human activities," he said.

The pipeline water system and irrigation system will be part of a "total community development" for the village of Los Sanchez, Dellinger said.

"You start with water and go to other things that help them help themselves as many ways as possible, between health and income," he said.

Some other projects the engineers are considering in Los Sanchez include building chimneys in every house of the village and creating a latrine. "The stoves they use to cook are all inside but there's no where to relieve any of the gases and smoke when they cook so we thought we would put in chimneys," said UT Engineers without Borders President Erin Nichols, a junior majoring in bio-engineering.

Dellinger said putting a chimney in each house in the village would also help with deforestation since the villagers wouldn't have to use as much wood with the new stoves and chimneys.

"What they have now produces a lot of smoke," he said. "You can see all the soot on the walls and ceilings so it's a health hazard too, especially for the women and children who spend a lot of time in the kitchen inhaling the smoke."

Dellinger said putting a latrine in the village would serve as a sanitation system.

"Right now they just kind of use the forest and that can be a health hazard," he said. "When you do a water system you have to follow it up with latrines."

The group also considered creating a tilapia farm for the villagers so they would have a source of protein, but Nichols said the idea was not feasible because the villagers do not own rights to the land.

The goal of these projects in Los Sanchez is to improve the quality of life for the villagers, Diaz said.

"The purpose of engineers is to increase the human quality of life," he said. "These people are really in need and they need as much help as possible. Everybody needs water, because water is the source of life."

Diaz said the leader of the Los Sanchez village shared with the members of Engineers without Borders during their last trip to Honduras how greatly the village has been affected by their efforts.

"He told us that they are a forgotten village from their own government and if the Engineers without Borders UT chapter wouldn't have gone there and worked on this project, they would still be forgotten," Diaz said. "He said because we were there and worked for them, the quality of life for his children is increasing."

Nichols said they made a five year commitment to Los Sanchez and helping the villagers help themselves makes her feel holistic.

"The work effort within the village of Los Sanchez is incredible," she said. "If you ask them to do something they will do it and they are very eager to learn things. Interacting with those people humbles you."

The irrigation project should be completed within one to two years, Dellinger said.

The engineers are also looking to bring a pipeline water system to a village in Honduras called La Barranca, which is not far from Los Sanchez.

"We are assessing them and some issues relating to a water system for that community because they don't have any," Diaz said.

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