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Students Cross Global Horizons and Barriers to Assist Others

March 30, 2012

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   Let There Be Water: An Engineers Without Borders member watches with pride as water flows from a plumbing system added to the in-patient medical clinic for the Dominican Republic community of Batey Santa Rosa.  (Photo by EWB Faculty Mentor John Gardner). 

Members of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) have taken another step in making a difference in the lives of citizens in the Dominican Republic community of Batey Cinco Casas.

In late February, students worked with village residents to bring water and a sanitation system for a former sugar plantation building getting new life as an in-patient medical clinic. A hurricane- and earthquake-proof roof has also been part of EWB's project, first started in 2009.

Though EWB's projects are primarily structural in nature, only two of the over 20 members are civil engineering students. That doesn't stop the dedicated members from working wonders in this gratifying hands-on international program.

Chemical engineering major Abby Grommet was drawn to the organization because of her interest in humanitarian work.

"I thought it would be an interesting and relevant way to get involved and use my engineering skills in a real-world situation," Grommet says.

She's not alone.  The group's former president, Angelica Patino, a biomedical engineering major, also wanted to use her engineering skills to help others. She also has enjoyed the chance to travel.

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Planning The Day: Members of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Engineers Without Borders chapter work with engineer/professional mentor Wil Painter to chart the next course of action in a project completed during a recent trip to the Dominican Republic.        

Last summer, EWB started installing a septic system for the clinic--just in time for hurricane season. Although a brush with Hurricane Irene caused some anxious moments for friends and family back home, the team of four students and two mentors was never in real danger.

"The only problem was--every single day--heavy rains," Patino explains. "That really set us back on some of our construction. We'd dig, it would rain, and water would fill up the hole."

Grommet adds, "We were bailing water by hand from a nine-foot pit."

With a limited time to complete the project, EWB members had to use every opportunity to catch up.

"Sometimes we'd stay until the very last bit of light was left for us to see," Patino says. "If you don't finish something it just doesn't get finished, and leaving the project unfinished is the worst-case scenario."

EWB members' goal is bigger than just finishing the project. "It's not like you do a project and leave. You monitor the project afterward, and by doing that you have a bigger impact on the community," Patino explains.

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   Lots Of Attention: Two Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students work on a faucet connection under the watchful eyes of children from the Dominican Republic community of Batey Santa Rosa.  These children will be impacted by the projects completed since 2009 by the Engineers Without Border chapter.

Another group returned to the village this February to work on an exixting water system in Batey Santa Rosa, village served by the clinic at Batey Cinco Casas.  Batey Santa Rosa was the worksite for all but one day during this year's trip.  The group fixed problems with the water system and planned latrines.

For students, playing a key role in establishing the Batey Cinco Casas clinic has offered unique hand-on learning and teaching opportunities. "We teach (community residents) things so that when we leave they can build something for themselves," Patino says.

From 2006-2008, EWB chapter members built a brooder house and training center in Obodan, Ghana.

EWB's national organization requires chapters to maintain a relationship with the communities they serve for four or five years. Students have just concluded a needs and feasability study for another town in the area, and this summer they plan to build latrines to address the sanitation needs in the town.

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Keep track of Engineers Without Borders activities at www.rose-hulman.edu/ewb.