Hallie Bevan, an environmental engineering major, is working with the Engineers Without Borders-USA CU student chapter to design and build a new solar-powered public water system for the San León village in Northern Peru.
The project team is working with members of this community to help improve their quality of life and health, in part by developing a public water system that provides clean water—something that the San León community has never had. "It was awesome to be an integral part of the project, acting as stewards of that empowerment and bringing new opportunities to them,” says Hallie. There are a dozen students in EWB-CU dedicated to the project that is entirely volunteer work. In order to drive the project forward, significant community participation is necessary; and most of the ideas and direction come from their cultural practices. Currently San León only has hand-dug wells that are contaminated. This project will include a new water well with a solar pump, a storage tank, and a small distribution system. Its funding has been provided by Peruvian partner organizations and Rotary International, which is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders that provides humanitarian services. Recently the team also received a large private donation to cover additional project expenses.
Creating a water system is a complex process and the project will not be successful long-term, Hallie says, unless the students are knowledgeable about the San León community's culture and the villagers are educated about how to maintain the system. Because their ideology is different, listening and developing relations with the locals is very important. Hallie says, "Empowering the community is the most important part of the process." Her involvement with the project has been mostly technical: researching, building, and designing the solar-powered water system. She says working with EWB-USA in Peru has changed her perspective of the United States’ value in developing countries. "It is life-touching to see how these people are living—their cultural value systems are so different. There is interconnectedness in how directly these people are involved with each other and their land's livestock."
The water project has helped the community to become more unified, Hallie observes. One resident donated his private plot of land to become public property where the water system could be built. In order to do so, he needed to apply for an ID card to make it a legal process, and the entire community sponsored his trip to the city to make it happen. Because the overall goal in this community is to educate the residents on how to maintain a potable water supply, it involves an enormous amount of individual contribution from the San León community. This community has already created a lot of success from banding together; and EWB-USA is trying to build upon what they have already started, targeting the community's specific needs, and building upon that ideology.
Team members have visited the community three times in the past two years for assessment and community partnership development, and the first implementation trip occurred August 2006. It will take several years for the water system to be completed, but the EWB-CU students and the community members are determined to complete the project successfully. Hallie says, “The beauty of it is that I am able to take these experiences and construct my future from what these people have taught me.”