article Spring 2024

 Engineering a Better Tomorrow: EWB-Guatemala’s Impact on El Pericón Chuacorral Sector II

The UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is making a difference in the lives of people in El Pericón Chuacorral Sector II, Guatemala by creating a well water distribution system that provides up to 30,000 liters of purified water.

In the heart of UW-Madison, a group of passionate individuals makes a difference in communities far beyond Wisconsin. The UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) aims to build a better world by teaching engineering students international responsibility. At the forefront of their initiatives is the Guatemala Project, particularly the El Pericón Chuacorral Sector II water project.

Aiden Gort and Mia LaRico, project managers of EWB-Guatemala, explain the central mission of EWB. “We embody the Wisconsin Idea by providing engineering and social services in Wisconsin and in underserved communities around the globe,” they explain. “Education should influence people’s lives beyond the classroom.” The key belief guiding EWB’s efforts is that true partnership with host communities coupled with active community participation is essential for success.

The El Pericón Chuacorral Sector II water project emerged as a continuation of EWB’s previous successes in El Zapote, where they conducted a similar project in the southern region of Guatemala. Motivated by their prior success, EWB embarked on this initiative to address crucial water needs in El Pericón.

Community members in El Pericón pose with a tap on the first day of water conveyance.

The water distribution system designed for El Pericón is a testament to EWB’s commitment to sustainable solutions. A well draws water from a deep aquifer and then pumps it uphill to a centralized tank for disinfection. The gravity-fed system distributes water through a network of pipes, pressure relief structures, and elevated ravine crossings, ensuring access to clean water in homes throughout the community.

The impact of the project is admirable. The system supplies water for the entire population of El Pericón, providing up to 30,000 liters daily. Before EWB implemented the water system, the community relied on untreated and unreliable surface water sources. Now, EWB’s transformative work  provides the residents of El Pericón with easier access to clean water, lowering the rates of water-borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid.

Challenges, however, are inevitable in such ambitious projects. “The largest obstacle we encountered is the unstable electrical supply, which limits the amount of pumping that can occur in a given day,” Gort and LaRico explain. “This is what we are working to overcome with the addition of the solar panels.” The solar array will offset voltage drops during the day, allowing for increased water supply and ensuring a more reliable and sustainable solution for the community.

EWB also continuously relies on sponsorships to maintain and update their projects. Every semester EWB searches for new sponsorship and product donations for devices such as solar panels and water pipes. They also turn to grants and fundraisers to fund their projects. Even the El Pericon community has helped contribute a portion of the total cost.

“We embody the Wisconsin Idea – that education should influence people’s lives beyond the classroom – by providing engineering and social services in Wisconsin and in underserved communities around the globe.”

Aiden Gort and Mia LaRico

Looking beyond their immediate impact in El Pericón, EWB-Guatemala envisions broader goals for the engineering and humanitarian community. Gort and LaRica describe their involvement in sponsoring groups within the College of Engineering. By enlisting the help of freshman engineers taking the introductory course InterEGR 170: Design Practicum, younger engineering students design and fabricate portable water-incubators for future use in Guatemala. Through their work with the local community through volunteering and awareness events in Madison, EWB aims to inspire the next generation of humanitarian engineers.

In the hands of EWB-Guatemala, engineering becomes a powerful force for change, reaching across borders and transforming communities. The El Pericón Chuacorral Sector II water project stands as a testament to the organization’s dedication to creating sustainable solutions and empowering engineers and global citizens alike for a better tomorrow.

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