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ASCE Grant Helps Student Volunteers Provide Water to Rwandan Community

February 2010 Volume 35, Number 2

Short Takes

The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, leveling the country’s fragile infrastructure, killing hundreds of thousands, and leaving vast numbers homeless, reinforces the importance of establishing safer and more reliable infrastructure worldwide. To help provide communities with more robust infrastructure as well as with the basic necessities of life, members of the University of Wisconsin at Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders–USA (EWB–USA) have worked tirelessly on five different projects around the world. Last December, in recognition of their dedication and continued service, ASCE awarded a grant of $5,000 to the chapter’s rainwater catchment project in Hindiro, Rwanda.

During visits to the area in May 2009, the team of university students assessed the drinking water and sanitary conditions at Hin-diro’s primary and secondary schools. The secondary school, for example, which has an enrollment of 550 and provides living space for 200 students, has a pressing need for more water to improve sanitary conditions and to help prevent disease. The team investigated the schools’ water sources, including the locality’s pipeline, the tap at the school, and the existing rainwater catchment system. Its members discovered that the pipeline, which is shared with the rest of the town, was failing to provide a reliable flow because of line breaks caused by erosion and by farmers plowing their fields.

Thanks in part to ASCE’s grant, the team will be able to construct a new rainwater catchment system this summer that will provide clean water to the school as well as to the area’s residents. “Additionally, your support will allow us to survey and assess damage to a pipeline [that] provides most of the drinking water to this town,” stated Erick Schauer, S.M.ASCE, the Rwanda project’s manager and a senior at the university studying civil engineering with a focus on transportation, in a letter thanking ASCE for the grant.

As Schauer explained in an e-mail to ASCE News, the team returned to Rwanda in late December to take precise measurements and conduct a comprehensive survey of the proposed rainwater tank area near the school. “This will help us design and construct a much better and sustainable system,” he said. The team also carried out many inexpensive, rapid repairs to the pipeline, resulting in a restored flow to the entire village. “This was a very satisfactory and rewarding accomplishment for this trip. We were also able to assess many other issues that will be fixed in future projects, including the damaged, eroded section of pipeline near the source as well as figuring out a way to mark where the pipeline is located so that farmers do not damage the pipeline while cultivating their fields,” Schauer stated.

ASCE annually awards a $5,000 grant to support a project carried out by an ewb–usa student or professional chapter. Projects undergo a rigorous evaluation process before one is selected.

The University of Wisconsin chapter’s efforts are being highlighted as part of ASCE’s Celebrate Engineer Volunteerism project, which is in keeping with the theme of Engineers Week this year: “Engineers Make a World of Difference: Celebrate Engineer Volunteerism.” For additional information about the project or Engineers Week, e-mail outreach@asce.org.

(In mid-January, other members of the University of Wisconsin at Madison ewb–usa chapter traveled to Bayonnais, Haiti, which is in a mountainous region about 70 mi north of Port-au-Prince, to conduct an assessment for a project to generate hydroelectric power. According to a statement by Eyleen Chou, the chapter’s president, on her blog—www.ewbuw.org/blog/97—the earthquake was little more than a tremor in that region. The students were able to successfully conduct their assessment, and they returned to Wisconsin on January 16.)