New year takes volunteers to Third World countries

New year takes volunteers to Third World countries

yya-webRowan University students in El Salvador last June were Ben Chapman, far left; then, clockwise, Sarah Gettings, Juan Roche, Andrew Thompson, Kelly Barb, and Rosa Metz in the front. All but Chapman left earlier this week for another trip to El Salvador as part of the school’s Engineers Without Borders – U.S.A. project.

They’ve been suite mates, classmates, study partners and officers of the Newman Club (Catholic Campus Ministry) at Rowan University.

Since their freshman year in 2009, Sarah Gettings and Gemma Peebles have gotten to be BFFs, sharing college life on an almost-daily basis. Today, they are thrilled they are half a world away from each other.

That sentiment is for a good cause.

Gettings, a junior chemical engineering major from Runnemede, and Peebles, a junior civil and environmental engineering major from East Windsor, are part of teams that are traveling for about two weeks this month to El Salvador in Central America and The Gambia in Africa as part of Rowan’s ongoing Engineers Without Borders – USA projects.

Gettings is project lead for the El Salvador team. Peebles is the EWB’s web master and clinic team lead handling the planning and paperwork for The Gambia project. She also is preparing to take over the project lead role from Sean Coffey for The Gambia effort. (Coffey, a senior civil and environmental engineering major from West Long Branch, who is dating Gettings, also is a member of the Newman Club.)

The El Salvador team is continuing work that started almost five years ago in La Ceiba — a town that is home to about 750 people and that suffers from severe water contamination. In May 2007, several Rowan students and a professor traveled to La Ceiba for an initial assessment, which consisted of land surveying, water-quality testing and learning about community members’ needs. Another team visited in 2008 to gather further data. Their original plan included drilling one well and obtaining water from an aquifer that is not contaminated and delivering it to 15 spigots throughout the town. However, the team determined that plan would have been too costly for Rowan to help implement (about $50,000) and the villagers to maintain ($6 to $9 a month per household).

Last year and this past summer, teams built and installed household biosand filters, filters that are filled with sand over which develops a biologic layer. When a user pours water into filter, the biologic layer eats bacteria and the sand filters out particulates, making the water safe to drink. Locals help build and deliver the filters. The 2012 team will continue that work.

“We will be building and installing 15 new biosand filters, and we will be monitoring 20 filters that were installed during previous trips. The monitoring involves water-quality testing and surveying the filter recipients,” said Gettings, who traveled as part of EWB to El Salvador for the first time in June, her only trip ever out of the United States.

Faculty advisor for the El Salvador team is Dr. Jess Everett, a civil and environmental engineering professor. Aldo Cevallos will travel with the team. He is a professional engineer living in Voorhees.

Rowan’s EWB also has a history in The Gambia.

Three years ago, teams started working on improving the dirt Kudang-Kuntaur Road — a link between eight villages and market towns Kudang and Kuntaur — that was at least waist deep with water for close to four months of the year. The students assisted The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust, a non-governmental organization with an office in a village, and locals, who raised the road in summer 2010 to reduce the flooding.

This month, Rowan students will monitor that project in the Niamina East Region of The Gambia, Africa’s smallest country, and also assess water pumps, including some  funded by The Gambia Horse & Donkey Trust in all eight villages.

Faculty advisor for the Africa team is Everett, and traveling with the students will be Dr. Hong Zhang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The two January trips will not be the end of Rowan’s outreach to those countries.

“The La Ceiba project will be ongoing,” said Gettings, who joined EWB as a freshman to help others. “There are 150 households in the community of La Ceiba, and each one of them will eventually have a biosand filter. A big part of our project is education. We teach the filter recipients how the filters work and how to take care of them properly. We also have them participate in the construction process. With this knowledge, the community members are able to help us get more filters done on each trip. It is our hope that sometime in the next few trips they will no longer need our help and will be able to build and maintain these biosand filters on their own. In the meantime, teams of Rowan students will continue to go down to La Ceiba to help the community make the filters.”

“I am excited to go back and see some of the community members I met last time, especially the kids,” Gettings added. “I am nervous because we planned more work for this trip than for any of our previous trips. We should be able to get it all done with help from the community, but there is always the ‘what if.’”

As for the future of the Africa project, Peebles said that depends on what the January trip unveils.

“If the villagers don’t need any help with their pumps and the road is fine, then as far as EWB is concerned, we’re done and we need to fill out paperwork for closeout. If we can continue with the pumps and/or the road, then we’ll continue,” said Peebles, who has never been out of the country. “I don’t know if I will be traveling again but if the project continues there will be other teams in the future.”

Peebles, who joined EWB as a freshman and also is a member of the Air Force ROTC, had similar reasons as Gettings for getting involved with EWB.

“I joined because it was what I wanted to do with my life, bring sustainable solutions to people less fortunate,” she said. “Everything I have in life has landed right in my lap, but there are people out there without things as simple as clean water. It is for this reason that I chose civil engineering, why I joined the Air Force and why I’m in EWB.”

EWB-USA is a non-profit organization committed to designing and implementing engineering projects in developing communities around the world. Such projects include renewable energy, clean water supplies and sustainable enterprise development.  The organization’s volunteers also include individuals with backgrounds in business, journalism, health and education, according to the organization. Rowan’s EWB chapter also has worked on projects in Senegal in Africa; Honduras; and Thailand, among other locations.

The El Salvador team departed Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday, Jan. 3. The following Rowan students traveled to El Salvador: Sarah Gettings, 20, Runnemede, a junior chemical engineering major; Jake Scaramazza, 19, Woodstown, a sophomore chemical engineering major;      Kelly Barb, 19, Sewell, a junior chemical engineering and Spanish major;       Rosa Metz, 20, Hillsborough, a junior secondary education major;      Samantha Powell, 21, Collingswood, a junior communication studies major;       Juan Roche, 31, Camden, a mechanical engineering graduate student; and Andrew Thompson, 22, Banner Elk, N.C., a senior electrical and computer engineering major

The Gambia team flew out of Philadelphia International Airport on Monday, Jan. 2. Team members are: Sean Coffey, 21, West Long Branch, a senior civil and environmental engineering major; Andrea McFarland, Doylestown, Pa., a sophomore civil and environmental engineering major; and Gemma Peebles, 20, East Windsor, a junior civil and environmental engineering major.

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