For the villagers of Chicorral, Guatemala, the routine
practice of obtaining water will be considerably less
cumbersome and time consuming next year, thanks to a team
of Johns Hopkins engineering students.
The isolated village of Chicorral lies in a
mountainous region of the Central American country and
currently has no electricity or plumbing. To get drinking
water, villagers must traverse down a 250-foot ravine and
draw water, some 30 pounds at a time, from a stream. The
trip takes 15 to 20 minutes, needs to be repeated several
times a day and takes time away from other activities that
could benefit the families.
Hope Corsair, a graduate student in the Whiting
Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering,
visited the village in July 2006 to conduct a survey on
regional energy supplies and to identify potential project
locations for the Johns Hopkins chapter of Engineers
In Chicorral, Corsair found an ideal situation to
match with the talents of the young Hopkins engineers.
The mission of Engineers Without Borders is to partner
with disadvantaged communities worldwide to improve quality
of life through implementation of environmentally and
economically sustainable engineering projects. Founded in
2005, the Johns Hopkins EWB chapter has already sent dozens
of undergraduate and graduate students around the world to
implement such projects, aided by professional engineers
from the Baltimore area who partner with the organization.
The professional engineers serve as mentors to the students
and provide technical guidance and expertise.
To fund its projects, EWB-JHU engages in fund-raising
initiatives, supplemented by grants and financial
assistance from university departments.
Maya Sathyanadhan, the chapter's president and a
graduate student in DOGEE, went to Chicorral during spring
break with Corsair and two professional engineers to meet
with the community's residents to determine their needs,
and then conduct water testing and survey the land.
Following discussions with the residents, the team
volunteered to build a pump that would supply drinking
water to the community more efficiently than the current
"We need to do this the right way. When we go into a
community like this, we're there to determine what they
want, not decide for them," Sathyanadhan said. "Once we
understood their needs, then we started to look at how much
water they use, who will use it and where we should build
the pump. We wanted to let them know what we realistically
could do for them."
To help realize its project, the EWB Guatemalan team
applied for, and has just received, a grant from the
Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace program. The
philanthropist, on the occasion of her 100th birthday,
established the program with a $1 million donation to
encourage and support motivated youth to create and
implement their ideas for building peace throughout the
world. Each award recipient receives $10,000.
Based on the preliminary assessments, the Guatemalan
team plans to either drill boreholes for water extraction
or build a solar-powered water pump and adjoining tank on a
ridge that is centrally located to several homes and the
Currently, a group of nine Johns Hopkins students is
involved in the design phase of the project, and sometime
this summer the students, with the assistance of
professional partners from the engineering company CH2M
HILL, will travel to Chicorral to begin implementation,
which will likely involve borehole testing, drilling and
Sathyanadhan said that the team is aiming to complete
the project by January.
"We are really excited about the project," she said.
"The community members are willing to help provide a lot of
the labor for us. It's vital that they are involved as much
as possible, as we need to build something they will
actually use. And they need to understand the building
process so that they know how to repair [the pump]."
Once the pump is operational, Sathyanadhan envisions
an improved way of life for the 200 villagers.
"Providing for them an easier way to drink and wash
their clothes could completely change their lives in a
substantial way," she said. "I'm hopeful it will."
The Guatemala effort is one of three ongoing Engineers
Without Borders projects; the other two are the
installation of a ram pump for the irrigation of a communal
vegetable garden in an AIDS-stricken area of South Africa,
and the design and construction of a community daycare
center in Ecuador.
For more information about the group, go to www.ewb.jhu.edu.