Illinois Tech Chapter of Engineers Without Borders Works With People of San Claudio Nicaragua to Improve Life

IMG_0998_news.jpgDuring the summer, five Illinois Institute of Technology undergraduate students and three mentors traveled to San Claudio, Nicaragua to continue service projects started three years ago. The team represented the Engineers Without Borders Chapter at Illinois Institute of Technology (EWB-IIT) and consisted of four Armour College of Engineering students: Deion DeBose (CE, 4th year), Oscar Guzman (CHE, 3rd year), Tommy Mai (CHE, 3rd year), Arturo Rodriguez (ME, 3rd year) and Cara Karter (CECD, 4th year). Two of the group’s mentors, Christine Freisinger (ARCE ’02) and James Lewan (ARCE ’06, M.A.S. STE ’08) are Illinois Institute of Technology Alumni. Partial funding for the trip was provided by Armour.

This was the organization’s third trip to San Claudio since spring 2013. With a commitment to the community for a total of five years, they are currently working with locals on two projects to help improve life.

One of the community’s self-identified needs is to improve their sanitation systems. Tommy Mai, the president of EWB-IIT shares, “I had noticed that most members (of the community) had been cross contaminating their filtered and well water. Therefore, we can implement latrines and sanitary procedures to limit the bacterial infections and much more.”

The students plan to do this by designing a latrine that could be easily implemented by families in the region. When the team has completed their design, they plan on sharing it with the local municipality and their partners to maximize the positive impact.


EWB-IIT group with mentors and local officials in San Claudio, Nicaragua.

This summer’s trip marked the start of the latrine project. Assessment of the current sanitation conditions had to take place before they could begin their design. The team spent a lot of time researching and inspecting the different types of sanitation systems in the region. As part of the research they asked locals about their sanitation practices, dug percolation pits to determine soil absorption rates, took soil samples, marked GPS points, and analyzed water samples from wells and filters.

The initial project that brought the group to San Claudio in 2013 was to design and build a bridge across a river and floodplain. This project would provide people from several communities with a reliable route to travel to school, work, and medical care.

During the group’s 2014 trip, they determined the need for a hydrology study to analyze the region’s hydrologic conditions before design work can begin on the bridge. The report was completed this year and the team spent a portion of their time reviewing it and discussing their concerns with a local municipal engineer.

They then met with a contractor who had prepared a design for the bridge. After addressing the group’s concerns it was decided that the contractor would update the design of the bridge to ensure it would solve the problem of roadway flooding in the community.

Progress on the projects does not cease when the team returns from their trip. They have already begun the process of analyzing the data they collected and have started to think about the latrine design. “Based on the data we collected, a composting latrine would be the most sustainable and ensure water is not contaminated,” says Deion DeBose, “The compost latrine is able to compost human waste to use as fertilizer.” The group also keeps in contact with their main partners in Nicaragua, updating them on the project at least once a month.

The organization is a great way for Armour students to put the lessons learned in the classroom to practical use in the real world. “EWB has given me the opportunity to not only practice a full design problem, but also the chance to consult with other organizations and partners to provide an engineering product,” said DeBose.

Fundraising for the projects is an ongoing effort for the group. The group holds an annual EWB-IIT Gala Event and silent auction in addition to coffee and bagel sales throughout the year to help support the projects. A donation can be made here if you wish to assist the group.

Follow EWB-IIT on Facebook and look at a photo gallery from their trip.