EWB Visit Holy Cross & San Mateo

This week, Holy Cross welcomed our first visit from the Texas A&E chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB). This was a fantastic visit and will form the beginning of what we hope will be along lasting partnership.

The EWB students focused their attention to two different areas: How can we help the school; and how can we help San Mateo?

The EWB team in San Mateo, Belize
At the school the engineers focused on two tricky issues - protecting our computers from the erratic power we receive and monitoring the effectiveness of the waste water garden. The design for our computers was already pretty good, but they were able to give us some ideas for continuing to improve the water garden, for which we are very grateful.

But more excitingly were the ideas generated to help the community of San Mateo, from where we draw many of our students. San Mateo has inadequate water, power, road, and sewerage facilities, so there were many challenges for the engineers to choose from. They chose the following three:
  • WATER. The engineers tested the water and confirmed what the locals already knew:  the town water supply that some residents have access to - while still being much, much better than carrying water home in buckets like they used to - is not reliably safe for drinking. Although it enters the area as safe water, the pipes lie in the sewerage contaminated lagoon water, which seeps into the pipes in some areas when pressure is low. Likewise, some of the many tanks that locals use for storing rainwater were found to be contaminated too. This is a serious hazard to the health of the local residents, especially infants and children. Read more here.

    The engineers identified that informing the local residents of the issues and teaching the residents how to safely treat the water were the immediate need, and they will then develop several prototypes of point-of-use water treatment systems that will provide safe drinking water from the local tap water. (Currently locals pay $5 BZ for 5 gallons of bottled water. This solution would reduce the price to less than $1).
  • ELECTRICITY: The next need is electricity. Some houses are now connected to mains electricity, and a fascinating yet not entirely safe web of extension leads and wires attach yet more houses to the grid. Yet many houses are without any power and all houses have blackouts several times a month (or even several times a day on a bad day).  The biggest impact is always the lack of evening light for study and general household activities.

    The engineers proposed a simple battery operated system that could run a light electric load (eg a light, radio and maybe even a fan), that could then be recharged by someone who had mains electricity. The local population thought this was a wonderful idea and are excited to try it. I suspect that this might also be adopted by other residents of San Pedro who have less than reliable electricity, or as a back-up during hurricanes.
  • ROADS: The engineers were also able to give a few suggestions to improve the roads being built by the community. These were to add culverts to improve drainage, and adding a geotextile under the road to support it in the mud. Most interestingly with the culverts, they were as much to let the tidal water in as to let the accumulating water out - the tidal water is salty so every time it washes inland it prevents harmful bacteria and mosquitoes from breeding.
We are very excited about these developments for San Mateo. To find out more about San Mateo and how you can help the development there, visit the San Mateo Community Empowerment Project website hosted by Ole Miss here.

Electrical measurements

Sampling the water

Engaging the local population

A new generation of EWB in training?


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