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2010 Winter Issue 3 (January 29, 2010)

Carleton’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders visits Peru

January 29, 2010
By Sophie Bushwick

On Tuesday evening, the Carleton branch of Engineers Without Borders gave a presentation titled “Approaches to Sustainable Infrastructure,” explaining their progress since juniors Matthew Strongin ’11 and Galen Kast ’11 founded the group in the spring of 2007.

A shared interest in building drew Strongin and Kast together their freshman year to construct a gun that shoots potatoes. As they sent spuds flying across Bell Field, the two began discussing ways to involve more people in more ambitious building projects.

“Right from that spud gun came Engineers Without Borders – Carleton College branch,” Kast said.

Engineers Without Borders is a national organization that contains both student and professional chapters. Carleton’s student-run chapter is the first at a school without an engineering program, which limits some of the possible projects, but the chapter can still fulfill the EWB goal of grassroots infrastructure development at local and international levels.

Locally, EWB-CC supports Project Torch, an initiative helping high school students overcome the obstacles that might keep them from attending college, and are planning to build a biodiesel reactor here at Carleton. Given a reactor to convert waste oil into usable biodiesel, the dining halls on campus have enough leftover cooking oil to supply all of Carleton’s diesel needs.

But the focus of Thursday’s presentation was the EWB trip to Ccapacmachay, Peru. After its foundation, EWB-CC began searching for a community in need that they could help, given the financial and physical limitations of Carleton’s branch. They finally found the 150-person village of Ccapacmachy (pronounced cuh-CAP-muh-chai), seven hours away from the nearest major metropolis and 14,000 feet up in the Andes.

Faced with challenges such as temperature swings and limited UV light, the villagers have difficulty growing anything but potatoes, which has led to an imbalanced diet. Although there are about 15 greenhouses in Ccapacmachay, which should help increase the variety of available foods, most have limited or no success.

With the help of a schoolteacher liaison who commutes from Urubamba to Ccapacmachay and local mentor Jerry Johnson, EWB-CC decided to help out the community by renovating a greenhouse that provides food for the schoolchildren. The extensive process of fundraising, research and finding transportation culminated in a trip to Ccapacmachay this past summer.

After getting to the village, a voyage involving a long van ride up a mountain road and a hike to the end, EWB planned the renovations, and then set to work with the local community to change the pitch of the roof, prevent flooding, improve insulation and optimize space. They checked on the success of their project this past fall, when Will Tynan ’11 went to Ccapacmachay for a follow-up trip. He found that EWB’s efforts had greatly improved the yield of the greenhouse.

Both the initial and follow-up trip inspired new suggestions for improvements EWB-CC could implement in Ccapacmachay. The group is already planning to return to Peru in order to install stoves and composting toilets.

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