- Elizabeth Slade
Imagine living in a country with limited access to clean water and sanitation systems. These hardships are ones that Americans do not face, but people in developing nations struggle with every day. Engineers Without Borders aims to improve the conditions of developing nations, because clean water and sanitation systems should be human rights, not privileges. At the heart of Engineers Without Borders at BU are the people who run it. It is our mission to use our technical and academic skills to improve the lives of people in need. We are motivated to help people in Zambia gain better access to clean water and effective latrines because we are a community devoted to helping others. If we ever encounter a struggle or setback with a project, we always remember the children at the nearby school in Naluja or the pregnant mothers in the clinic who deserve better living conditions. The people in Naluja, Zambia have taught us to appreciate what we have and they are our motivation to work. We are committed to developing technology that will enhance their quality of life. Will you join us in this mission?
- Elizabeth Slade
For this upcoming summer, Engineering Without Borders plans to travel to Zambia. A major project we have been working on is a VIP latrine, or a ventilated improved pit latrine. Throughout the past year, our sanitations systems technical team has been researching specific structural aspects of the latrine to ensure our latrine will provide a safer and cleaner environment for the people of Zambia.
For instance, we learned that although a rectangular pit is simpler to build, circular pits provide more structural support. The rectangular pit’s corners are more likely to deteriorate or even detach because of the direct pressure from the outside soil. However, a circular pit distributes this weight more evenly and since there are no edges, there is less stress overall.
We also learned about how many latrines are built with openings to allow for air to flow through. However, we hypothesized that this may cause latrines to collapse earlier than they should. To prevent this potential danger, we researched about effective methods to build pits. Some engineers recommend two pits to remove some of the strain on only using one pit, others advocate for the circular pit as a method to prevent early collapsing, and many recommend learning more about the soil in Zambia and how it would interact with the pit.
We went to several labs to learn more about the soil composition. This is important because we must understand the ratios of the water, sand and dirt mixture that is used for the pit and how it compares with this soil composition. Furthermore, we also learned how to implement the concrete slab on top of the pit. This research required a great understanding of torque, tensile stress and strain, as well as weight distribution.
Moreover, we also learned about the structure of the latrine itself. We plan to implement a latrine system that provides a handrail because this makes the latine more accessible to pregnant mothers who are visiting the clinic. As another latine improvement, we specifically plan to use a ventilated improved pit latrine because this latrine system improves cleanliness and also helps to eliminate pests and flies. We plan to have tippy taps outside of the latine system so that the people of Zambia will have more access to hand washing stations and cleaner sanitation methods. To remove flies, we plan to build a door for the latrine and leave it shut most of the time to eliminate the chance of flies surrounding the bathroom area. We also plan to implement a PVC pipe that will stretch from above the roof of the latrine to the pit. This pipe will effectively ventilate the pipe and create airflow. The pipe will also have a fly catcher inside of it so that if any flies get stuck in the pit, they will be attracted to the light from the pipe and then get caught in the catcher. This measure will minimize insects and improve sanitations standards for the people of Zambia. We are very excited about this project and the positive impact it will have on the Zambian community.
I grew up in the two most developed cities in the world, Abu Dhabi in UAE and New Delhi in India, each with its own water related story. The water in New Delhi is profusely polluted and copious amount of money has been spent on the water treatment. Meanwhile in Abu Dhabi, water is obtained from seawater, which is concentrated with salt. Desalination plants were the only way to obtain purified potable water. Evidently, these two cities have spent a huge amount of money to achieve the goal of clean drinking water. But unfortunately, Naluja, Zambia doesn’t have those funds.
I joined EWB last fall during my first semester of freshman year. The passion of this club towards a holistic approach to obtain clean water and maintain hygiene in the Nalujan community drew me into their activities. With further involvement in this club as a secretary, I learnt more about the novel approaches taken up by each tech team. From the solar pump and Bio-Sand filter to the hand washing stations and latrines, all of these individual projects have paved technical paths to attain the objectives. But it is the Water Transportation and Collection that combines them under a single hood.
The Water Transportation and Collection technical team is dedicated to devising methods that cater to water collection and storage solutions. Recently, they started designing a rainwater harvesting catchment that will support a supply of clean water during the rainy season. Teachers in the community have expressed interest in a rainwater catchment system. The current sources of water in Naluja are limited to distant boreholes, rivers, and small pools of water that collect in the ground. In times of water shortage, collecting water from boreholes and transporting them become difficult for community members that live further away in the outer zones. During those times they often resort to unhygienic sources like rivers, shallow wells and smaller pools of stagnant water, which result in numerous water- borne diseases. This affects the social, mental and economic well-being of the community. For prosperity to sustain in this community, it is essential to keep the foundation strong, that is, to ensure good health. Retrospectively, all the EWB projects, with their focus on clean water supply have ultimately shaped the health of the community.
Although the Water Transportation and Collection project may seem straightforward, it is actually coupled with many traditional challenges. While this team tried to devise methods to prevent people from carrying heavy loads of water, the community members were not open to practising some of the new strategies. According to teachers, students who fetch water from stagnant and shallow pools of water for the rest of the school during the day learn valuable household skills that help them to grow into productive community members. The silhouette that the community members are not able to see is that by collecting water from these small pools during the rainy season students are exposed to waterborne pathogens and they formulate the impression that these are safe sources of drinking water. Hence, it becomes important to not only design the rainwater catchment according to their cultural needs but also to educate them on the importance of sanitation and hygiene.
Since the project of rainwater catchment is still blooming, the members of this team can play a major role. Being the design and assessment stage, members can implement their own ideas and test them in the Tinker lab.In the words of one of the tech leads, Sally Wu, ‘No idea is a bad idea. Every idea really matters.’ This project is expected to expedite after the trip to Naluja in summer. During this trip, travel members will collect data regarding precipitation and other determining factors, which will greatly facilitate the design of this project. Until then, a lot of brainstorming is going to take place and the success of these ideas will depend on its members, old and new.
What comes to your mind when you think about Sub-Saharan African Culture?
Is it food? dance? Or traditions?
Sub-Saharan Africa is a land of potential and diverse terrain. History has witnessed the emergence of great ethnic cultures. In order to complement the rich culture of African, Engineers Without Border at Boston University is working with the community of Naluja, Zambia to create engineering solutions that solve problems in their daily lives.
On 5th December 2015, EWB – BU organised an event celebrating our strengthening relationship with our community. Our aim is to develop sustainable engineering projects that cater to providing access to clean drinking water to the residents of Naluja. A lot of hard work, sweat, cooperation and perseverance goes behind this process, and it would not be possible without the help of our partners from the community. Hence, Kusekelela was a night to celebrate their culture and remind ourselves of the ever-important context behind our projects in the presence of an amazing panel, renowned keynote speaker, graceful performers and a great audience.
The panel of speakers consisted of Farnaz Farhi, an M.D. candidate who received her Masters in Global Health from Oxford; Jennifer Coates, Ph.D., a professor in Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University; Dr. Peter Rockers, ScD., an Assistant Professor at the Center for Global Health & Development and in the Department of Global Health at BU School of Public Health. Each of them is associated with global health and global technologies. Exploring their immense pool of knowledge and experiences through discussions and questions, we were able to gain and impart a great deal of understanding about large scale projects.
Our keynote speaker was Iana Aranda, Director of Programs for Engineering for Change, the former President of the Engineers Without Borders New York Professional Chapter and a Senior Program Manager of the Engineering for Global Development sector at ASME. She shared her expertise and experience in the field of developing and implementing vital technologies in developing communities all over the world, including Kenya and Cambodia. We were very fortunate to have her at this event.
The event was dazzled by amazing ethnic performances by Afrithms and Canvas. Afrithms is an African Dance troupe under BU’s African Students Organization while Canvas is a collective of accomplished musicians, travelers, and poets with the common goal of making a difference in the lives of others.
Our members and the external attendees alike got a lot of enjoyment out of the night. The food, the performances, and the speakers were all stunning, and it was clear that feeling immersed in the culture of the people that we work with served to inspire us to work even harder. “The event was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed the food and all the performances,” one attendee, Hannah Levin, said, “But the best part of the evening was definitely the reminder of the fact that we fit into a bigger picture. We’re so far removed from our partner community that it’s often very easy to lose sight of them, but Kusekelela really reminded me what we were working towards.”
Every aspect of the evening played its role in making Kusekelela a memorable event. We are very grateful to our sponsors and partners in having faith in us and our work and the members of EWB-BU, especially the Fundraising team, in organizing another successful event.
In honor of the beginning of the UN's High Level Sanitation Days, a showcase of recent progress in clean water, here is a guest post on the importance of SDG 6 - Universal Access to Water and Sanitation - by our chapter president, Donovan Guttieres. Donovan will be speaking at the UN event tomorrow, November 19, representing our chapter.
This is year is one of transformative change. A few weeks ago, the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly made history by in ushering in a new era of sustainable development. The UN Sustainable Development Summit saw the 193 member states adopt, celebrate, and make commitments to the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Included in the agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a revitalized commitment that builds on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and promises to “leave no one behind” and to close the gap of local and global inequity by engaging everyone, everywhere. The SDGs are integrated and indivisible, balancing the 3 dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social, and environmental - and establishing a framework for development over the next 15 years.
Of all the goals, perhaps the most relevant to the work we do at EWB-BU is Goal 6: “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.” Universal access to water and sanitation is a big endeavor, and its importance goes beyond just the numbers and its seemingly simple chemical composition. Water is an indispensable component of many complex systems, such as health, pollution prevention, food safety, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, urban development, and more. Recognizing the scarcities in water supply and sanitation is a call to galvanize multifaceted solutions and sustainable actions to achieving this fundamental right to sustenance.
As outlined in the 2015 MDGs report, while the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation has been halved since 1990, water scarcity due to physical, economic, or institutional constraints still affects more than 40% of the world’s population, hindering socio-economic development. This makes it clear that successfully reaching SDG 6 will not be an easy gap to close, but rather requires coherence between science, technology, and industry at each level, from the global to the local, to ensure that universal access to quality water and sanitation is fulfilled.
At the global level, the United Nations Secretary General Advisory Board on Water & Sanitation (UNSGAB), formed in 2004, has spearheaded efforts to galvanize policy and action towards sustainable water supply and water resources. Their most recent initiatives have been advocating for SDG 6 and putting in place the Hashimoto Action Plan III, meant to identify challenges in achieving universal access to water and sanitation, solutions for ensuring resilient water systems, and monitoring plans for assessing impact. November 18-19, UN’s High-Level Water and Sanitation Days, will showcase a set of coordinated events including UNSGAB’s final meeting, a special thematic session on the links between water and disasters, and celebrations of the World Toilet Day. Other programs, such as UNICEF’s W.A.S.H initiatives, have been influential in pushing for children’s rights, supporting national programs ensuring safe water and basic sanitation services, and promoting improved hygiene.
However, long-term and resilient impact will only come as a result of programs at the local level. Locally-driven assessments and interventions are essential to adequately identify barriers to reaching SDG 6 and potential innovative solutions using available resources. Ownership of such initiatives must stay at the local level in order personalize and contextualize the right for water and sanitation. The acquisition, delivery, and management of sustainable water supply and sanitation systems must be informed by the local sociocultural, economic, and environmental contexts that make up communities in order to develop resilience within technical and financial capacities. Barriers to water and sanitation are a nexus of challenges within sustainable development and must be addressed concurrently by governments, communities, and individuals.
Within our chapter of Engineers Without Borders, we are collaborating with the community of Naluja, located in Zambia’s Southern Province, in order to support locally-driven water sustainability programs. As we develop a watershed program meant to close the gap to basic health needs, we are continuously reminded of the importance of the socio-cultural contexts of where we work and the need for fit-for-purpose and human-centered technologies that can be scaled in low-resource settings. Our partnership has been met with much enthusiasm, inspiring us to support our partners in Zambia in helping identify the “theory-of-change” and innovations they are eager to pursue. This mutual relationship has had an immense impact on how we approach our work as “societal engineers”, our shared responsibility to drive innovative change to close the gaps of inequity, and the beauty of interpersonal skills that come from such local partnerships.
Recently, the United Nations has made a huge step forward towards sustainable development by adopting a formal list of “Sustainable Development Goals,” or SDGs, a list that aims to address the problems and shortcomings in our current global development. The SDGs build on one of the UN’s slightly older list of goals, the Millennium Development Goals, and they provide a great opportunity for all of us. As students in the world of sustainable development, we should all be doing our best to learn about these new goals and do our part.
This is not lost on EWB-BU’s advisor, Professor Zaman. Shortly before the SDG’s were officially adopted, Zaman came out with a Huffington Post article advocating for the engagement of students in the conversation. Zaman states that in his classroom, students know next to nothing about the SDGs, what they are, and what they mean for sustainable development and us as a world. This, he says, must change. Students need to know about and be involved in the SDGs for many reasons.
The first of these reasons is that if we get involved early in our lives, there is a greater chance that we will be able to properly participate in the conversation when we are the adults making the decisions - in Zaman’s words, “it is about investment in our future.” Secondly, we are a far more globally connected generation than those that came before us. Since the internet and technological advances have made us so connected to other parts of the world, involving us will open the door to making the SDGs a far more global discussion, which will be a huge opportunity for progress. Third, he believes that discussion of the SDGs “will bring much needed intellectual diversity to the development sector.” Students are often cut off from global conversations, especially ones about science, technology, and engineering, so adding our voices will definitely change the tone of the conversation. Lastly, Zaman believes that the SDGs require innovative, adaptive, and excited minds to take on the challenge. He says, “To maximize our chances of success, we need to capitalize on the passion and energy of the most innovative group of people amongst us: our students.”
Zaman’s article is incredibly refreshing. Usually, when professionals note lack of student involvement in global issues, it is with an accusatory tone, blaming the “laziness” or “self-involvement” of the millennials. However, Zaman brings up outside reasons for the lack of student involvement, noting “local crises occupying the minds of our students, or the declining role of the UN in discussions on campus.” Additionally, it is clear that he truly believes in our generation. He wants us to take part in the discussion because he knows we can be helpful, because we are smart and innovative and connected.
And of course, he is absolutely right. But these are exactly the reasons that we need to push to be involved. There are other factors keeping us out of global discussions, and even without them, students are often not listened to as much as they should be. So it is our job to learn as much about these new developments as we can, and to discuss them among ourselves and with professionals. We have the capability to make an impact, and our voices are needed. Now it falls to us to make them heard.
Zaman’s article can be read here.
The warm weather and lack of students on campus mean that the Spring 2015 semester at Boston University has come to an end, but the news from Engineers Without Borders certainly hasn’t. As summer is now more than halfway through, EWB-BU has invested months of trip preparations, as our travel team is now well immersed in Zambian culture as they advance the water-related projects we are working on with the Naluja Community. This trip is possible due to the collective contributions and commitment of many: all our members, our faculty advisors, our donors, and our NGO partners. As we approach our trip, we have also forged a new and exciting partnership with a local NGO in Zambia’s Southern Province of Kalomo, Simwatachela Sustainable Agricultural and Arts Program, otherwise known as SSAAP.
Early in the Spring semester, our other NGO partner, the Zambia Center for Applied Health Research and Development, or ZCAHRD, informed our team that they would be scaling back their operations in Zambia due to changes in funding. Because of this, while we were still eager to maintain our partnership with ZCAHRD, we realized that an additional NGO partner may be necessary to maintain the level of involvement and communication with our partner community that we hope to have in the next few years as we continue to assess and implement projects. As such, we began looking for a new partner.
The EWB team first made contact with SSAAP through the Boston University Global Health Initiative via Katie Clifford, an additional advisor to our group. At the beginning of February, Clifford put us in touch with one of SSAAP’s representatives, Heather Cumming, who she had known through her days in the Peace Corps. Heather was extremely enthusiastic about EWB’s work, and right away she seemed excited at the possibility of being a part of what we do. Similarly, we found ourselves believing strongly in SSAAP’s mission, especially its focus on community-driven initiatives that lead to local empowerment, improve water access, and sanitation. It was quite evident to us that our organizations would be a great fit for each other.
In order to solidify the partnership, our organization’s president, Donovan, and our webmaster, Blake, flew out to Colorado, where SSAAP is based, over Spring break to talk to Heather in person. The meeting lasted many hours, during details on the partnership were discussed at length. It was an excellent opportunity for our two organizations to form a more personal bond and a more thorough understanding of each other’s responsibilities and expectations, as we gear up to more efficiently work with the Naluja Community. EWB wrote up a Memorandum of Understanding, and it was given to SSAAP for edits. After some negotiation on both sides, the MOU was finalized. In return for EWB’s endorsement and help with their animal rearing program, SSAAP will be assisting us with the collection of data and communication with our partner community. Additionally, ZCAHRD will still play an instrumental role in maintaining community relations and logistical assistance in Zambia, as well as work with SSAAP in different capacities to truly promote collaborative work between all partners.
Our EWB team, comprising of three students - Jacqueline Farnsworth (ME ‘17), Wali Sabuhi (BME ‘17), and Sam DePalma (BME ‘18) - along with two wonderful mentors - Roger Stillwater & Joshua Das - from the Boston Professionals Chapter have now been in Zambia for the past few weeks. They have been able to continue discussions from last year with important community actors, while establishing new ties in the process. Progress certainly seems promising, as the community has demonstrated interest in the projects being assessed. Additionally, the EWB team and SSAAP will be meeting up in Zambia to go into the community and train volunteer on best practices for monitoring and evaluating projects. They will then enjoy a festive night with community members before heading back to Livingstone and eventually to Boston. We see a bright future for these wonderful partnerships and are looking forward to seeing the outcome of these discussions.
Keeping EWB and all our associated projects up and running can be difficult. Fortunately, from states all over the US, we stay in touch over the summer!
The past few weeks have been an exciting time for us for many reasons, but one of the most exciting of our recent accomplishments is leading us into a new chapter in collaboration and friendship with the network of EWB chapters from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. On February 16, EWB-BU had the honor of hosting what we hope will be the first of many roundtable meetups between over eight EWB chapters throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Roger Williams, Tufts, Northeastern, Harvard, MIT, the Boston Professional Chapter, and more.
The roundtable included three hours of discussions and networking between students, covering a variety of different topics: membership growth and retention, finding and opening a new program, fundraising and outreach, the technical aspects of water supply projects, and creating NGO partnership. Chapters had varying levels of experience: for example, Roger Williams was newly established and has yet to find a community to partner with and UMass Lowell is currently trying to establish a chapter, whereas Northeastern and Harvard have well-established programs working in multiple countries. However, everyone had something to contribute and something to learn. Northeastern and Roger Williams both gave presentations on their own topics, and after each presentation, active discussions took place that all chapters contributed to. In fact, everybody had so much to say that discussions even ran late. The other highlight of the event was the networking lunch, a free half hour that everybody used to get to know each other and discuss their experiences in a less formal setting. In addition to being a time to exchange tips and information, the meeting was a wonderful place to form lasting friendships.
Many of the attendees had much to say about their experiences. Wali Sabuhi, EWB-BU’s Social Networking Chair and the man responsible for much of the meetup’s organization, judged that the meetup was a great success. “The turnout for the first ever roundtable was remarkable, given the harsh weather conditions and public transportation situation on the day,” he said. “It speaks to the amount of enthusiastic students and professionals there are in just this particular EWB chapter network. Chapters varied greatly in terms of their program and project statuses – several students were looking to begin a chapter or secure a program, while others were happy to deliver advice and encouragement. Along with ongoing knowledge-sharing in events similar to this first roundtable meet-up, the long-term vision for this collaboration of thirteen-plus chapters is to collectively support project and chapter development and assist each others’ goal pursuits.” A representative of the Tufts chapter stated that, “It was good at creating discussion that all of the groups were able to contribute to and learn from,” and others acknowledged it as “a great networking opportunity.”
Overall, the meetup was a huge success. Most of the chapters expressed interest in having similar meetings once or twice a semester, and many volunteered to host the next one, so we are hopeful that this is a tradition that will continue for many years. We encourage those that are interested to attend the next one, and to take advantage of this incredible learning opportunity.
While we were all on break from school, things in Zambia certainly haven’t been quiet! Following the death of Michael Chilufya Sata last October, Zambia held elections for a new president a few weeks ago. On January 24, our partner community elected Edgar Lungu, the candidate from the Patriotic Front party, to be their new leader.
Elections were quite a challenge this year. Voting started on January 20, but it continued for four days, due to rain and other logistical issues that interfered with voting in many parts of Zambia. As many as 160 polling stations were unable to open due to weather issues, hurting voter turnout. To make matters worse, because Zambia has had so many parliamentary elections lately, many citizens have simply grown weary of voting and thus did not come out for the election. As a result, only 32.36 percent of eligible voters voted in this election. Additionally, issues have persisted even after the elections. Because Lungu only won with 48.3 percent of the vote, his victory is being contested. Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND), received 46.7 percent of the vote, and he and some of his supporter believe that the election was unfair or even rigged. Hichilema spoke out against violence towards his supporters, and he also stated that there were “irregularities” in the counting process. He has called for voting reform in Zambia, and he continues to be a strong contender in the next election, which will take place in 2016.