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Engineers Without Borders builds well for town in Cameroon

| Sunday, January 22, 2017

Over winter break, six students from the Notre Dame chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-ND) traveled to Sangmélima, Cameroon, to complete construction of a sanitary hand-pumped well, giving the village access to a reliable source of clean water for the first time.

The completion of the well marks the culmination of over four years of fundraising, research and planning by the students in EWB-ND, whose chapter was started six years ago.

Sarah Drumm, junior and co-president of EWB-ND, said a rural women’s association in Sangmélima applied to the national Engineers Without Borders organization for a group of students to help with a water project.

“There are other wells in the area, but I’ve been there, and most of the water is contaminated with bacteria that are incredibly harmful,” Drumm said. “It’s very visible — people there get sick all the time from water-related diseases.”

According to the EWB-ND website, this is the third time students have traveled to Sangmélima. In 2014 and 2016, students visited the village on assessment trips, allowing them “to sample local water sources to gauge need, survey potential sites for the well, interview contractors, teach hygiene and women’s health programs, and build relationships with community leaders,” the website said. 

All funds for the project were raised by the EWB members. Prior to the most recent two-week trip over winter break, EWB selected and hired a Cameroonian contractor to begin construction.

“It was about 90 percent done when we came,” Drumm said. “… We built the pad that goes around the well and a cinder-block wall. When we left, we had assisted in that part, and the well was done. Before we had even finished with the construction, people were coming in the morning to draw water.”

In addition to the implementation aspect of the trip, the students also continued their assessment mission in Sangmélima.

“We did a lot of education, and we had a meeting with the community to present the well to them, to show them how to operate it, to explain why it was clean water and why it is important to drink clean water, as well as a lot of interaction with the school there,” Drumm said.

“The well is actually located on the school campus of Alfred and Sarah Bilingual Academy, which has students from grade 3 to age 25, and we did hygiene programs with them to teach them the importance of hand-washing and using a latrine and drinking clean water. We also did some interviews with people in the community to figure out what other needs they have beyond this water well that [EWB-ND] can address in the future.”

Junior and fellow EWB-ND co-president Claire Nauman said the club’s goal is to make sure its projects are sustainable.

“Part of the way Engineers Without Borders makes sure that that happens is, they require that the community contribute at least 5 percent of the funding for whatever the project is,” she said. “In addition, you’re required to have several community members helping with the construction or somehow involved in the implementation. That’s a way that Engineers Without Borders ensures that there’s commitment on all sides.”

The students did not encounter any difficulties with the residents of Sangmélima, who were enthusiastic about the project, Drumm said.

“We were incredibly fortunate that the community we found was extremely welcoming and accepting of the project, which is really hard to find in a lot of development projects,” said Drumm. “Most development projects don’t last because of some kind of miscommunication between the engineers and the community that lives there.

“This community understands the need. They really wanted this well, and they were so willing and eager to learn how to use and maintain it. We worked with them to set up a water committee in charge of the upkeep and maintenance of the well, which is a big accomplishment. The fact that they are so willing to work with us means that we are likely to stay with them.”

Nauman said the group already has plans for additional construction projects in Sangmélima.

“I think our activity for how new we are definitely stands out — that we’ve actually implemented an entire project,” Nauman said. “We have big plans for the future. On this trip, we implemented a well with a hand pump. We’re hoping we can integrate in that an electrical pump in the same community. That’s part of EWB’s model—you stay with the same community for as long as there’s a need.”

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