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EWB sanitation project building a better world

Written by Donny Gross, University of Tulsa Chemical Engineering, Music ’20
Engineers Without Borders USA Bolivia Sanitation Project

Coming to college, I wanted to get involved with something that makes a real difference in the lives of real people. It took a couple semesters exploring before I found an incredibly underrated organization on campus that deserves a lot more attention for the amazing work they do that enriches the lives of the local community as well as communities abroad: Engineers Without Borders-USA.

In my fifth year here at The University of Tulsa, I have now spent four years of my life working for this incredible organization’s Bolivia Sanitation Project and have witnessed the life-changing work that goes on as a result of the hard work and dedication of the students. I’ve never met a group of more compassionate, dedicated students who all care more about the well-being of those less fortunate than themselves and are willing to sacrifice their own time and energy to make the world a little brighter for others.

sanitation projectOn our first trip, the team flew down having no idea what to expect when we arrived in Bolivia. We landed in the capital of La Paz and were able to spend the day exploring the capital city and taking in the rich South American city’s culture as excited tourists before heading to the Andes Mountains to begin our work with the community.

Our goal for this trip was to assess the needs of the community by taking samples of water and soil as well as surveying the land and doing surveys within the community about their struggles and needs. We got to take multiple hikes miles up the mountains to sample their water sources and encountered unbelievable views.

sanitation projectInteracting with the community was, by far, my favorite part of the trip. When we arrived, there was a noticeable apprehension to our presence, as community service organizations are often seen in a cautious light and known for overpromising and under-delivering. As the trip progressed and we spent more time interacting and integrating with them, it was incredible to see that barrier break down as they began to trust and accept us. Our favorite thing to do was play soccer with the local kids after a long day of hiking and surveying. The community would come out to watch the “gringos” get shown up by their kids.

By the end of the week, we had collected all the data we needed and had gained the trust of the community. We headed back to Tulsa to begin the design, budgeting and training required to implement the project.

sanitation projectThe next year, we headed back out to Bolivia with old and new faces on the team, ready to build latrines and showers for the community. We were welcomed with open arms. Throughout the week, we experienced our share of successes as well as trials and tribulations. We played a few more soccer matches along the way. By the end, we had accomplished what we had set out to do, which was to construct two fully functional latrines and two fully functional showers.

sanitation projectNow we are preparing for our second implementation trip with the goal of constructing four more structures and acquiring funding for the construction of six more. Now that we have the construction plan ironed out, we will transfer that knowledge to the community so that they can build and maintain their own structures for this project to meet our goal of sustainability. We will also give community talks on the importance of health and hygiene in order to help cut down on sickness and disease in the community.

I am so incredibly proud of this organization and the amazing work that it has been doing in the global community. Anything you can do to help these communities in need would be greatly appreciated. So please consider donating to our project or sharing and spreading the word with your family and friends!

Learn more by contacting Donny Gross at dtg663@utulsa.edu or Maggie Holtmann at mmh5656@utulsa.edu.