U of I Students Work with Bolivian Families to Improve Sanitation in Community


University of Idaho College of Engineering students recently helped Bolivian families improve sanitation in their community as part of an overseas humanitarian effort funded by Idaho donors.

Representing the U of I’s Humanitarian Engineering Corps (HEC), five students traveled to the remote community of Challcha in the Andes Mountains, eight hours from the Bolivian capital city of Sucre.

Students work directly with community members to identify potential infrastructure projects to meet community needs. The team built privacy shelters and septic systems for a toilet and shower.

All building materials are funded through donations from Moscow and other Idaho communities to the student club. U of I students fundraise year-round to cover travel costs and to hire professional engineers and construction workers who are also on-site.

Mike Lowry, a civil engineering associate professor who also traveled to Challcha, said community members help with construction, developing background knowledge to maintain the facility after the project is complete.

“The travel is tough, and the work is incredibly hard,” Lowry said. “Having an engineer’s problem-solving mindset is part of what is needed, but this experience drives home the importance of communication and teamwork with the people we serve. Our students gain a deep understanding of the professional skills our society and industry demand through this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Mechanical engineering junior Jasmeen Manshahia said developing relationships with the families set the experience apart from a traditional internship or out-of-the-classroom experience.

“We stayed next to a single mother of four,” the international student from India said. “Interacting with her every day, we could truly understand her needs, the challenges she faces every day, and the problems we needed to solve. You don’t get that deep understanding in an internship or a regular client scenario. It makes you remember what engineering truly is. It’s helping people.”

Manshahia traveled with students Ian Finnigan, a computer engineering senior from Idaho Falls; Olivia Haener, a civil engineering senior from Boise; and Matthew Troxel, a civil engineering senior from Parma, Idaho. Harrison Bashaw, a recent U of I civil engineering graduate from Coeur d’Alene, was also on the trip.

Since 2012, U of I students have traveled to Bolivia to support efforts to improve access to clean water and sanitation. This is done in partnership with Engineers in Action, an international nonprofit organization focused on developing sustainable systems and infrastructure for underserved communities.

The team recently completed a series of projects spanning five years for the community of Carani in Bolivia, building a gravity-fed water supply system to replace the dilapidated municipal system.

Source: Big Country News Connection