UMass Engineers Without Borders improve infrastructure in Panama

By Sebastian Moronta, Staff Writer

The UMass Dartmouth Chapter of the Engineers Without Borders will be completing a six-year project in Panama this year, and will soon begin a new project in a new territory in need.

Engineers Without Borders is a national non-profit organization that organizes projects all over the world for students to tackle with a network of professional engineers and technicians. These projects are centered around improving water, energy, civil works, sanitation and structures.

Billy Carias, senior civil engineering major and president of the UMass chapter, described the project the team has been invested in for several years. “The village is called Valle Las Perlas, in Panama. We’re helping them rehabilitate their water system, in past years we’ve traveled and implemented new devices, as well as worked on water storage.”

In August, four members of the group traveled to Valle Las Perlas along with Gemma Kite, a mentor to the group and engineer working in Cape Cod. The four students, Billy Carias, Nneoma Ugwu, Kyle LeComte, and Olivia Brochu, worked closely with the families in Valle Las Perlas to repair pipelines and other issues in the water system.

The UMass chapter has partnered with Conades, a government public works agency in Panama, that has been doing work across the country to improve infrastructure. This includes a recent initiative called the Basic Health Program which aims to make Panamanian water 100 percent potable, while replacing latrines in low-income homes with 300,000 new hygenic bathrooms.

Conades helped the UMass students investigate a new water source for the village, and will be sending a second team to continue work on the village after the Engineers Without Borders wrap up on the project. EWB hopes to make one final trip in March to evaluate the water system one last time before officially handing the project over to Conades.

UMass EWB is made up of mostly engineering students, but the group’s officers, including Nneoma Maxine Ugwu, junior civil and enviromental engineering major and VP of the chapter, are looking for new members.

“The group is open to all majors, because we need people from each different part of the university” Nneoma explained, “EWB is not only about building the system, it’s about building the community. We need people who speak another language, we need people who are creative and innovative and who can do artwork for our advertising, we need marketers, we need people from all over. That’s our goal moving on, to get people from different parts of the university to build a community that is beyond us.”

Traveling to other countries to do this kind of work can be very rewarding for students, as Kyle LeCompte, a senior civil engineering major and project manager for the group, explains. “Going to another country and seeing how they live gave me a better perspective, we waste a lot and consume a lot here, and that’s what traveling showed me.”

Nneoma and others deeply value the hands-on experience. “As an engineering student, it gives you that on-site experience which you don’t always get…being with Engineers Without Borders you’re actually on the sites, hiking hours a day, physically seeing the problems and remembering what you were taught in class to fix it.”

In March, around the time of their final trip down, the group will be organizing an event for former members and alumni who began work on the project six years ago to see the results and celebrate the work.

If anyone is interested in joining Engineers Without Borders, the group meets Mondays at 5:30 p.m. in CCB 149. For more information about the group, contact the chapter President Billy Carias or follow the group on Instagram.

 

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