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Engineering club serves impoverished countries

Senior+engineering+student+Kassie+Paul++discusses+the+importance+of+service.+
Senior engineering student Kassie Paul  discusses the importance of service.

Senior engineering student Kassie Paul discusses the importance of service.

Photo by Matthew Serafin

Photo by Matthew Serafin

Senior engineering student Kassie Paul discusses the importance of service.

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In the face of a severe water shortage, residents in the Guatemalan neighborhood, La Tribuna, walk nearly 9 miles for clean water. A group of Marquette students are working to change this.

Engineers Without Borders is a volunteer organization that seeks to improve the lives of impoverished communities through engineering projects, and is working on various infrastructure projects in the Guatemalan city of Joyabai. Most of the projects are pedestrian footbridges, but EWB recently expanded their work capacity, adding a water purification project.

The Marquette chapter was established in 2005 and quickly became the College of Engineering’s leading service organization, though they accept undergraduate and graduate students from all Marquette colleges.

The neighborhood of La Tribuna has been hit harder than many other areas during the water shortage. Mark Federle is a professor of construction engineering and the faculty adviser for EWB. He said the water the citizens of La Tribuna do receive is completely undrinkable.

“Right now, most of (La Tribuna) gets one dirty 55-gallon barrel of water a week,” Federle said. “They wouldn’t drink it, but it’d be for everything non-drinking purposes.”

In response, several families from La Tribuna decided they are willing to pay for clean water. They purchased a small spring. While they now have access to clean water, walking to the spring daily is inconvenient and often unfeasible.

EWB is currently working to treat the spring water and pipe it to La Tribuna. The team members bring the water into the town, put it into a tank, and use chlorine and different filters to purify it for drinking, and then send it out to taps at each home.

The water purification team is  in the process of forming groups which will focus on researching elevation data, water quality and other factors.

The other group is building a bridge and is in the research phase to determine where it should be placed.

Adam Gottlieb, a senior in the College of Engineering and fundraising chair for EWB, said his time spent designing and building a bridge in Joyabaj had a significant impact on his life.

“The whole point of the bridge is to make the crossing easier for the kids so they can get to school easier, but even after you cross that river, you’re still walking 500 feet of elevation to get to the school,” Gottlieb said. “You don’t really realize how many extra (conveniences) we live with.”

Esther Baas, EWB’s president and a senior in the College of Engineering, said she agrees with Gottlieb.

“For them, they carry babies up this (hill). It does put into perspective how much easier it is for us,” Baas said.

Project leader Kassie Paul, a senior in the College of Engineering, has been involved in community service throughout her time at Marquette. Paul said she has always found service to be important, but she often finds that, to many people, service simply refers to free, unskilled labor.

“Oftentimes, we find that our community service isn’t skilled,” Paul said. “It’s going to a food pantry and helping out, and talking to people and smiling, which are skills that we all have. You need to be able to use your skills that not everyone has to serve.”

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