May 06, 2009

The village of El Porvenir, Nicaragua.

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By Julia Ferrante

EL PORVENIR, NICARAGUA – Residents of this mountaintop village have running water for the first time, thanks to the completion of three-year engineering project inspired by the Bucknell Brigade.

Rene Gaitan, vice president of the El Porvenir coffee cooperative, which grows the organic, fair-trade coffee sold by the Bucknell Brigade, reported Wednesday that water was flowing to the village center in El Porvenir. The 48 families that live in the village are excited, he said, and expect the pipeline will greatly improve their quality of life.

Bucknell University has been working with Project Gettysburg-Leon, a nongovernmental organization associated with Gettysburg College and the Center for Development in Central America to construct a pipeline to increase water availability and eliminate rations in El Porvenir. The pipeline project is one of the many project initiated by brigadistas who traveled to Nicaragua during the service-learning program's 10-year history.

Health clinic
With the host agency, Jubilee House Community, the brigade has worked on projects including construction of a health clinic, a spinning cooperative and other sustainable businesses for residents of Nueva Vida, a resettlement community formed after Hurricane Mitch hit Managua in 1998.

The waterline project began in spring 2006, when Sarah Woodard of JHC visited Bucknell. Woodard met with Charles Kim, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Adam Donato, Class of '07, to discuss the potential for sustainable engineering projects in Nicaragua. That fall, a group of student engineers, working with Kim and Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Mike Toole, adopted the waterline initiative as their senior design project.

Donato and fellow 2007 classmates Rob Gradoville, Laura Roberts and Julie Jakobowski designed the pump for the waterline while Meghan Feller, also Class of '07, worked on plans to extend a pipeline up the mountain. In January 2007, Gradoville, Jakobowski and Feller traveled with the Bucknell Brigade to survey the situation first-hand. With the help of a local guide and a GPS system, the students staked out a path through the jungle, from the well to the mountain top.

El Porvenir visit
The students were determined to proceed with the project after visiting El Porvenir and seeing for themselves how running water would benefit the residents.

Shortly after they returned to Bucknell, the students secured a $10,000 grant from the Davis Foundation 100 Projects for Peace program, which helped fund the project, along with donations from the Bucknell community and Project Gettysburg-Leon.

"Brigade folks – students and staff – have good reason to celebrate this news," said Janice Butler, director of the Office of Service-Learning, which coordinates the brigade trips. "It's taken a while for the project to go from paper to actually pumping water, but we really appreciate all the effort, physical labor, planning, negotiations, and monetary donations that made this dream a reality."

Water collection
The residents of El Porvenir until Wednesday collected water every two days during the dry season, making the steep descent from their village to a well 1,000 feet below in a tractor-drawn wagon. Men would leave the village at 4 a.m., fill four large barrels from the well, turn around and go back up then repeat this process twice before collecting enough potable water to provide rations of two gallons a day for each of El Porvenir's 285 residents.

The El Porvenir village center consists of several wooden buildings, most dedicated to the coffee business that sustains the small community. The pipeline will provide running water for cleaning, cooking, drinking and bathing. It also will improve the quality of life for those in El Porvenir, many of whom have contracted parasites and developed urinary tract infections because of the scarcity of drinking water during the six-month-long dry season.

Toole and Kim spent more than a year investigating alternative means for powering the pump after it became clear that the electrical grid could not be extended to the site of the new pump house. Eventually, they decided to use a diesel generator to power the new pump. The El Porvenir residents then installed the galvanized pipe, which was purchased with donated funds from Bucknell and Project Gettysburg-Leon.

Product development lab
Toole and George Waltman, director of Bucknell's product development lab, traveled to Nicaragua in March to complete the project. Toole helped install some of the remaining pipeline and the electrical cable to power the pump from the diesel generator while Waltman helped finalize the installation and adjustments to the pump.

Members of JHC traveled to El Porvenir this week to help complete the project.

Contact: Division of Communications

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