The OSU Students Working to Get Clean Water to Rural Communities in South America
For over a decade, a dedicated club of students at Oklahoma State University has been fighting to give rural communities in South America access to clean water.
Since 2009, the Oklahoma State University student chapter of Engineers Without Borders has planned and built water purification devices and pipelines in Honduras and Guatemala, and this year, they’ve put the finishing touches on a water pipeline that will provide clean water to more than 80 residents of a rural village in El Rancho, Guatemala.
The club is a chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA, a national organization that seeks to build sustainable engineering for impoverished people across the world. EWB distinguishes itself from many charities in its insistence on using only locally-sourced parts and ensuring that the locals obtain the expertise and knowledge to fix problems that may arise.
In Guatemala, EWB OSU students build a wooden structure that will protect water tanks.
“The last thing we want to do is to give somebody something that they don’t need or won’t use, meanwhile we’re patting ourselves on the back for doing a good deed,” EWB OKState President Carson Elmore said. “Or to go give somebody something that they did need, that they will use, but it breaks and now they’re out of luck because they don’t have the parts there or the skills to fix it.”
The process begins with local community leaders who contact Engineers Without Borders through the internet to register a need in a certain community. Then, if EWB OKState believes it has the resources and expertise to help that community, the club will reach out and begin planning how to help address that need.
“What we’re doing is not just a couple college kids out looking for a project, what we’re doing is having a direct impact on people’s lives,” Elmore said. “It’s a good motivation, and it also reminds us to do [our] homework because they’re counting on [us].”
EWB OKState members buy supplies at a hardware store in Guatemala.
The projects EWB OKState works on are long and difficult, and often many of the original students that started work on the project have graduated by the time work is completed. A rainwater collection and water pipeline project that was recently completed in Plan de Avila took five years of planning and implementation to finally be completed. Even after the project is completely built, club members maintain contact with the communities for a full year to ensure there are no problems or complications.
“We spend the first two years or so specifically trying to understand the problem,” Elmore said. “We want to understand what the community wants from us, We need to understand what they can provide or how they’ve been trying to solve the problem as well.”
EWB OKState’s current project is shaping up to be their most challenging to date. They will need to build a pipeline that will be able to transport about 80 gallons of water from a well several miles to a rural community in El Rancho, making it far larger in scope than any previous projects. However, Elmore is confident that it will be successful.
“We’re very optimistic about it going forward,” Elmore said. “We’ve had great contact with the local office and the village representative, [..] and now we’re going through the planning process.”
Students build a water pipeline.
Aside from EWB OKState’s work internationally, the students also participate in domestic charity work. They have partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help build charity homes in Stillwater, directly contributing to the sustainable development goals of fighting poverty and building sustainable communities.
“I’m all about [giving back to the community],” Domestic Project Lead Robert Owens said. “It’s only my first semester in, and we’re already working on a number of projects, so it’s really exciting,”
EWB OKState stresses that students of any major can join. If you are a community member, faculty, or a student who wants to help, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at ewbokstate.org.
By Zach Kluver