Bolivia - College of Engineering & Computer Science


Public health through better sanitation: TU’s Engineers Without Borders USA improves lives in rural Bolivia

From Sept. 21 to Oct. 1, The University of Tulsa’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) led the implementation of a latrine/shower project in Machacamarca-Micacuni, Bolivia, which is a rural agricultural community about 70 miles northwest of the capital, La Paz. The small town had limited access to latrines and showers, resulting in unsanitary conditions for residents.

Prior to this, members of TU’s chapter had traveled to Machacamarca-Micacuni twice: in 2017 for an assessment trip and in 2018 to build two prototype units. Soon after their 2018 expedition, however, a series of political protests followed by the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to further trips. This year, TU members were able to resume the project using virtual technology.

A Bolivian man wearing a hat and a green shirt standing beside a small red-brick building
Octavio Quispe beside his new latrine/shower unit

Advised by Laura P. Ford, an associate professor of chemical engineering, TU’s chapter worked remotely to build two more latrine/shower units while teaching community members how to build additional units. During the process, the TU team collaborated with Ricardo Condori, a member of Engineers in Action, who did the onsite implementation on their behalf. Condori used instructions sent from TU and materials that were delivered to the community, staying in contact with the team in Tulsa the entire time. In this way, Condori built two structures, each one consisting of a shower that uses gravity-fed water from up the mountain and a latrine that is flushed using water drained from the shower.

“After this initial implementation, we plan to conduct a follow-up with the community to check on their progress building eight more units,” explained Ford. “The families will give us feedback on the structures that we built to ensure necessary changes are made before more are constructed. The goal is to build an increasing number of latrine/shower structures on future implementation trips to improve the community’s access to proper sanitation practices.”

Skills and benefits for all

While members of the Bolivian community gleaned important skills about sanitation engineering through the project, the TU students developed their skills and knowledge.

A small, roofless red-brick building during constructionNathan Weiskopf, a senior double-majoring in chemical engineering and chemistry, served as the student team lead for the project, which entailed facilitating communication between all parties involved while also leading team meetings, spearheading fundraising and helping solve problems. He said that the EWB-USA project has been a rewarding way to get involved in an effort that transcends textbook equations and, instead, deals with something even more important: changing lives.

Weiskopf originally joined the project in order to get more involved with his field of study. He has been thrilled, however, to witness the beneficial impact of the team’s work on the Bolivian community’s well-being. “Being involved with this project has been an important part of the enriching experience at TU,” Weiskopf said. “I’ve learned so much about what it means to work effectively as a team and be a leader. I’ve expanded my worldview by communicating with people from different cultures than mine, and I’ve picked up other skills that will be very valuable for my future career. It’s awesome to know that I’m contributing to such a good cause, and I believe this opportunity has stressed the importance of doing good for others without expecting anything in return.”

A small, partially constructed red-brick building in a sandy landscapeFunding for the Tulsa chapter’s project came from Ford’s Chapman professorship as well as restaurant nights, a silent auction, the Bovaird Foundation, a Water Fast Fundraiser and the dean of TU’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.

Learn more about the EWB-USA Tulsa chapter projects and the College of Engineering & Natural Sciences.


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 or Maggie Holtmann at