What are you doing for New Years? If you are one of ten students at Rowan University, your answer might be going to El Salvador or The Gambia to participate in Engineers Without Borders.
Sarah Gettings and Gemma Peebles are two juniors who are going on these trips and who will play important roles in the success of the projects. Gettings is the project lead for the group heading to El Salvador and Peebles will be the web master and clinic team lead for those going to The Gambia.
Rowan students have already traveled to El Salvador twice already: in January and June 2011. The Rowan EWB students have been working with a city in El Salvador, La Ceiba, since 2007.
“The river and wells in the community are all contaminated with unhealthy levels of coliform,” said Gettings. “This contamination causes high incidence of diarrhea and parasites among community members, resulting int eh death of many children. …The final solution, which was affordable for both the chapter and the community, sustainable and practical overall, was to install biosand filters in each of the 150 homes of La Ceiba. ..So far, the filters have been successful in removing contamination from the water. A team of Rowan students and a professional mentor will be traveling this January to install 15 more filters and continue to monitor filters that have already been installed.”
Peebles and her team have not been to The Gambia before, and for a while, it looked like they might not be needed there. Their original reason to go was to fix a flooding road. However, another organization repaired the road before the students could get there. So now, the students have had to look for another way to help the people who live there.
“Our project at that point was to find sustainable ways to help the villagers access clean drinking water,” Peebles said. “Another project was added to that when the issue of deforestation came up – peanut-shell briquettes which could be added to fires as a supplement for wood during cooking. We’ll be collecting data from the villages on our main project – water pump repair and maintenance – as well as monitoring our original project – the Kudang-Kuntaur Road. We also hope to test our peanut-shell briquettes.”
It sounds like the students who are going to The Gambia will be plenty busy. The students will be going to West Africa from January 2-13. For Peebles, this is just a taste of what she hopes her future could be like.
“I’m in the ROTC program and will commission after my senior year,” she said. “The Air Force does many humanitarian missions around the world and, as a civil engineer, I could be a part of that. Through Engineers Without Borders, I can get some experience with travel and the cultures of other countries. I will also be more aware of the problems they have around the world and be better prepared to combat them.”
Gettings knows a little more what to expect out of her trip to El Salvador because she went on the trip there in June.
“It is very different than America,” Gettings said about the city in El Salvador where she will be working with EWB. “Since it was my first time out of the country, I think the biggest shock to me was that I couldn’t understand anything. I knew no one would be speaking English, but I had never experienced anything like that before. It was weird to not be able to communicate at all with anyone except the small group of people that I went with. It was very obvious just from our tree hour drive from the airport to La Ceiba that it was a poor area. It was even more obvious once we were in La Ceiba. And it made me realize, even more than I already knew, all of the things we take for granted.”
“These projects are important because they are changing people’s lives,” Gettings continued. “It’s hard, probably impossible, to imagine what it’s like to live in a place where you know drinking the water will probably make you sick, probably make your children sick. They didn’t do anything to deserve that. If I have the ability to help, why would I not?”