Billions of people awaken every day and turn on the water faucet to wash their faces. But, as mundane as it may seem, there are still many communities worldwide that would consider running water and flush toilets a luxury.
A group of UCSB students and staff members have started a local chapter of the national organization, Engineers Without Borders – USA. The purpose of the organization is for volunteers to provide poverty-stricken communities in the United States and abroad with basic engineering and construction services. The UCSB chapter will soon apply to work on a project in Thailand, where students will travel to the needy community for two weeks to help develop a drinking water supply system for a dormitory.
EWB-USA was created in the fall of 2000; however, the UCSB chapter was started just last quarter by two College of Engineering staff members, Mary Dinh and David Bothman, and a doctoral student, William Martinez.
Martinez had experience working on an EWB project in Peru during the summer before he came to UCSB.
“We had a decaying water system that needed to be repaired and optimized … so that all the people in the community could have access to safe drinking water,” Martinez said. “It was built in the late ’80s and was made from low-quality tubing. The villagers had no idea how to fix it. We trained them so that they can fix the system themselves now.”
Inspired and motivated by his experience there, Martinez searched for other people at UCSB interested in similar programs.
“The first two people I found were Mary Dinh and David Bothman, and by that time, they had already heard of EWB,” Martinez said.
Students have passed on the news about EWB at UCSB by word of mouth, Dinh said. This has generated a good following, and the chapter now has 32 members, including five people from outside UCSB.
“We didn’t know how many people we would really get interested,” Dinh said. “I am very impressed. We have found some very committed students.”
Dinh, like Martinez, had a personal experience that strongly influenced her decision to get involved with EWB.
“I lived in Africa for almost two years,” Dinh said. “I just went as a volunteer high school civics teacher, and I ended up working with people in education programs and information technology.”
Seeing the condition of the villages firsthand is really important, Dinh said.
“I think it made that possibility more real for me,” Dinh said. “After you’ve been there, you can’t step away from it.”
Martinez said that the motivation for being a volunteer really stems from a desire for greater equality in the world. EWB’s website states that short-term international aid is not a good solution. Instead, developing and encouraging a new generation of well-informed and caring engineers will provide better results.
In addition, Dinh said EWB can use help from everyone, not just engineers. People with knowledge of other cultures especially would find many ways in which they can help.
Chapter member and UCSB mechanical engineering junior Jennifer Bosso said EWB’s flexibility is an attractive aspect of getting involved.
“It’s like the Peace Corps without the three-year commitment,” Bosso said.
“Two weeks is most common,” Martinez said. “The longest has been about three or four weeks for a project.”
Currently, the chapter is considering three projects that are offered from EWB. The most likely option would take place in Thailand. A dormitory and health clinic is being built, and there is a need for a plumbing system. This chapter’s assignment would be to design and build the water system.
At the last chapter meeting, members discussed the logistics of this project. It will likely take place in the summer, and will require fund raising. In order to spark interest in the project, chapter members are holding a kickoff dinner.
“Our big kickoff meeting – we changed to a less formal thing,” Dinh said. “I think it goes against our principles to be spending so much money on such a formal dinner – money that would be better spent on our projects.”
Chapter meetings are held every Wednesday at noon in Engineering II, Room 2319. Their website is http://www.engineering.ucsb.edu/~ewb-ucsb. Contact William Martinez at for more information.