Engineers are problem solvers, offering solutions to better people’s lives. LSU engineers are assessing issues not just in Baton Rouge, but across the world.
Four LSU students, who are members of the LSU Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders – USA (EWB), and one faculty member traveled to Honduras in January to unite with Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana (UNITEC) students to observe water quality, waste treatment, infrastructure and ecotourism problems in Omoa, San Pedro Sula, San Pedro Zacapa and La Ceiba.
“We had a chance to see a full spectrum of potential projects, everywhere from water potability to hydroelectric plants, that we have reduced to a small group of target projects,” said Zachary Faircloth, electrical engineering sophomore.
The LSU EWB students paired with Honduran UNITEC engineering students to tour areas of the country in need of engineering solutions. After observing multiple sites, LSU Engineers Without Borders Adviser Steven Hall, P.E., said water potability and waste management should be addressed.
“Water quality needs to be improved for good potable water to local villages,” said Hall. “A well-planned distribution system would minimize waste and maximize effectiveness.”
In San Pedro Zacapa, “water sources were polluted with mineral sources nearby,” said Faircloth. The makeshift pipes strung downhill from a river to supply the water to locals.
“The pipes and their location present the risk of drinking contaminated water,” said Michelle Galindo, biological engineering sophomore. “Without potable water, community members can suffer from illness. Our plan would be to first design a better water supply and distribution system.”
Perhaps the greatest community need was an improved waste management program. Locals dump their trash in a field with no method of removing it safely. It grows larger every day, Galindo said.
“They had attempted to alleviate the pollution by burning the trash, but that only further polluted the air,” said Faircloth.
Mechanical engineering senior Courtney Irwin explained the trash presence had a significant impact on the team.
“Seeing the trash dump in Zacapa was a very sobering moment for the team,” Irwin said. “Here in the U.S. most of our problems are generally more hidden, but the problems in developing communities are so prevalent and apparent nearly every where you go.”
Hall said Hondurans have access to advanced technology, but many don’t receive clean water.
“We often take for granted clean water, waste treatment, decent infrastructure, safety aspects and decent roads and bridges,” Hall said. “ “Ironically, people in Honduras have cell phones but many die of health issues related to water quality or waste treatment.”
The purpose of the trip was to visit sites in order to create practical solutions for the local people.
“We can now brainstorm and decide which site would be the most feasible for our team, but I think something else we accomplished was developing a relationship with the communities we visited,” Galindo said.
Galindo, a Honduran-American, was the team’s designated translator, and she was excited to use her communication and language skills in addition to her engineering knowledge.
“As the team’s designated Spanish speaker, I had to speak a lot more than I usually do. It was intimidating at first, but communicating with the community members was our priority,” Galindo said.
Manuel Bermudez, a Honduran UNITEC civil engineer who worked with the LSU students, said the only barrier these projects had in the past involved technical support. The town of La Ceiba had financial support, but lacked technical designs for water supply.
“If we can get a partnership with them, the project can be a reality,” Bermudez said. “There are many problems that can be solved by creative solutions. This shows us that engineering has a great impact in the development of a community.”
Bermudez commented on how the LSU engineers were perceptive and actively listened to the locals to grasp a detailed understanding of the problems. All agreed that the acceptance of various cultures made the trip successful, and the students look forward to helping the Honduran people solve engineering obstacles.
“As a Honduran-American, receiving such a warm welcome made me proud of my culture, especially after seeing the travel team enjoy themselves so much over there,” Galindo said.
Irwin said the trip empowered her to do even more in the global community.
“I would go back in a heartbeat, and I feel so much more connected to my interests in global engineering and global service,” she said. “Students and young professionals can make a significant impact on local and international problems.”
The group is returning to Honduras on April 9 to assess the water supply and distribution projects in San Pedro Zacapa.
“As an engineer, part of the job description is to develop solutions for today’s problems,” Galindo said. “We’re using what we know to better people’s lives.”