CU-Boulder 'Engineers Without Borders' Team Wins International Award For Sustainable Engineering In Rwanda

Published: June 1, 2005

The University of Colorado at Boulder chapter of Engineers Without Borders and its partners, which include the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the universities of Ruhengeri and Butare in Rwanda, have been awarded the international Mondialogo Engineering Award along with about $18,000 to support their long-term sustainable engineering project in Muramba, Rwanda.

The team was one of seven award winners from U.S. universities and 21 throughout the world announced May 30 at a ceremony in Berlin. The winners, which were selected from 412 entering teams, received a total of 300,000 euros in prize money from sponsors DaimlerChrysler and UNESCO.

The unique worldwide contest called on students from industrialized and developing countries to work together on proposals for sustainable engineering applications to aid developing countries. An international jury then assessed the project ideas for sustainability, feasibility and quality of intercultural dialogue within the project group.

Located in a mountainous region of Rwanda near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Muramba faces many problems associated with poverty, drought, the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its aftermath. Hundreds of people in Muramba were killed and much of the village's infrastructure was severely damaged in 1997 during the "Time of the Running," when the people of Muramba ran between the warring Interhamwe gang and forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

CU-Boulder Professor Bernard Amadei, who founded Engineers Without Borders-USA, adopted the project and put together a team of students and professionals to address the village's most basic needs. The team, which includes nearly 30 students from CU-Boulder and UW-Madison, began its work in March 2004 by conducting a needs assessment. The assessment determined numerous problems ranging from a decrepit and unsanitary water system serving thousands of people to a lack of lighting in the local clinic where as many as 70 babies are born each month.

The EWB team has since returned to Muramba three times to repair and improve the 75-year-old gravity-fed water system and its leaky taps, build two new rainwater catchment systems, and install solar-powered lighting in a clinic and school. On the latest trip, May 10 to May 25, the team also restarted a sand filtration system in the village that hadn't been in operation since 1989. Future visits will continue to focus on water quality with the improvement of sand filtration and the introduction of solar cookers and possibly ultraviolet filtration.

On EWB's first visit to Rwanda, students met with President Paul Kagame and the minister of infrastructure, who pledged their full support, including improving the road between Kigali and Muramba so that supplies could be brought more easily to the village.

The EWB team also has worked with local villagers and vocational and high school students to accomplish its tasks, while providing training in the continued maintenance of engineered systems for local people.

"Our goal is to eventually work ourselves out of a job by working with the community and training them in the maintenance of the systems we implement," said Meg VanSciver, a 2005 CU-Boulder engineering graduate now working full-time with Engineers Without Borders.

Other members of the CU-Boulder Rwanda project team include students Evan Thomas (coordinator), Keir Hart, Laura Richards, Elliot Goldman, Lindsey Frazier, Robin Anliker and Max Gold.

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