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Engineers Making A Difference Worldwide

by Burgess Everett
UPI Technology Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Apr 03, 2006
Engineers Without Borders, also known as EWB, is a program founded in 2000 that combines the expertise of professional engineers with the drive of engineering students to deliver basic necessities to developing countries in the form of sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies.

"Students can partner with professionals to execute projects or have a faculty member be their mentor," says Carole Johns, the professional and student chapter coordinator for EWB. "Professionals can execute projects on their own or partner with students."

EWB is currently involved in almost 100 projects spread over 30 countries, including the United States. The group has completed work on 30 different projects worldwide, ranging from creating an onion drying shed in Senegal to a bridge in El Salvador.

But the organization strives to form a lasting relationship with the afflicted community rather than simply install new technology. This helps ensure the people's long-term success and preserves the area's culture and values.

"We ask that each chapter commit 4-5 years to each community," Johns says. "Phase one may be providing (the community) safe drinking water. Phase two may be sanitation. Phase three might be irrigation."

EWB's first venture was installing a water delivery system in San Pablo, Belize, a small village of about 250 people. Dr. Bernard Amadei, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, took eight of the school's engineering students and a professional engineer to San Pablo, where the team finished installing the system in 2001.

To date, over 170 chapters have been started in the United States, with more springing up globally to form the EWB-International network. When Craig Farkos, a Washington, D.C.-area engineer, wanted to get involved with EWB, he contacted Johns and hoped to align himself with a local chapter of EWB. When Johns informed him there was no such group at the time, Farkos started his own chapter.

"It wasn't exactly easy to start," says Farkos, the founder and president of the Washington, D.C., Professionals Chapter of EWB. "There was a lot of work in it, especially with this being a major metropolitan area and people working such hours. People take time out of their family life, which is pretty impressive."

The D.C. chapter was founded in November of 2005, and now has about 35 members, including engineering students from area schools such as American University, George Washington University and Howard University. The group schedules weekly one-hour meetings, which often go well over the allotted time due to people's excitement and dedication to the program, Farkos says.

"Given the amount of work people have to do and the time they take out of their busy days, there has to be motivation in people to do good, and you see that in the people that come to our meetings," Farkos says. "People see a true value in what they are doing."

Farkos' chapter and the many others nationwide all share one very uncommon characteristic: they are completely dependent on volunteer work. The groups fund all their projects through fundraisers and ask prominent businesses in their local communities to donate money to the charitable cause. University of New Hampshire students joined with EWB to give Santisuk, a village in Northern Thailand, sanitary water conditions in 2002. Volunteers transformed the village's contaminated water into sanitary, potable water in addition to a full irrigation system at a cost of $30,000.

"Like most non-profits, we are under-funded and struggling to find additional funding," Johns says. "Our executive director, Cathy Leslie, has yet to draw a salary and also works as a professional engineer for another firm."

Farkos' fledgling group is still in what EWB calls the first phase of a project, which is a data-collecting survey of their intended project in the small town of Santa Clara, El Salvador. There, the well-water supply has become contaminated by sewage run-off from a nearby latrine; a problem Farkos is now planning to solve. After the group surveys and talks to the local community, they will return to the United States to design a water treatment plan that they will implement in the near future.

The group hopes to have the same success that EWB and Valparaiso University had in 2005, when they provided drinking water for the draught-inflicted Nakor village in Northern Kenya.

"Four families are using the water and they have planted about an acre of land," said a Nakor community member after the newly installed wells returned water to the blighted region. "They are planting new patches each week so I expect they will soon be harvesting sorghum daily. The father of one family came to tell us how happy and thankful he is for the opportunity to have food everyday."

Farkos knows that similar results will take a long time to come to fruition, and acknowledges the immense amount of work it will take for his chapter to have an impact on the world. But there is a great amount of value to helping "one community at a time," he says.

"I see our chapter staying with this community and working long-term on projects," Farkos says. "One project leads to another. One town asks you for help, and then another and pretty soon you are working on a whole region."

Source: United Press International

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Pakistan To Relocate Town Destroyed By Earthquake
Islamabad (AFP) Apr 03, 2006
Pakistani authorities have decided to relocate a northern town shattered by last October's massive earthquake because it is too dangerous to rebuild in the same location, officials said Sunday. "The quake-hit town of Balakot will be rebuilt at a new location," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP.

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