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Engineering Students Complete Latrine Project With Community of San Claudio, Nicaragua

This summer, seven Armour College of Engineering undergraduate students and three mentors traveled to San Claudio, Nicaragua to implement compostable latrines and a handwashing station for a primary school that housed roughly 60 children. The team represents the Engineers Without Borders Chapter at Illinois Institute of Technology (EWB-IIT) and consisted of: Michael He (CE, 4th Year), Oscar Guzman (CHE, 4th Year), Arturo Melchor (AE, 4th Year), Nina Townley (ARCE, 4th Year), Daniel Rodirguez (ME 4th Year), Judy Wu (ME, 3rd Year) and Sayeed Mohammed (ME, 2nd year). The group’s mentors included Armour Alumni Christine Freisinger (ARCE ’02), James Lewan (ARCE ’06, M.A.S. STE ’08) and Akshar Patel (CE ’13).

EWB-IIT originally came to San Claudio in 2013 with the task of designing a vehicular bridge. After assessing the plan and analyzing the hydrology study during their trip last summer, it was concluded that the magnitude and cost of such a project was out of the scope for a student program. Students then held a community meeting with the mayor of the local municipality to explain the closing out of the bridge project and to answer any questions. The end of the bridge project marked the start of the engineering student’s efforts to improve sanitation in the village through the latrine project.

The community of San Claudio had identified sanitation as a problem in their daily practices. In past assessment trips EWB-IIT identified that cross-contamination had been occurring between the communities well water and filtered water. To address the issue, students proposed building a latrine and handwashing station to improve sanitation. The engineering students provided the community with plans outlining various latrine types so they could choose which would best suit their needs. As the group’s 2015 trip concluded, the community had selected a compostable latrine design, and the students flew back to Chicago and began to plan the community’s latrine and handwashing station.

Throughout the 2015 - 2016 academic year, students worked passionately to design the optimal latrine and handwashing station for the people of San Claudio. Numerous calculations and CAD renderings were completed to ensure the safety and sustainability of each structure. The mentors were involved throughout the process reviewing reports and advising the students through the design process.

Engineering students working to build a compostable latrine

Images of engineering students working on building a latrine.

Upon arrival in San Claudio this summer, the students met with the contractor to discuss the site layout and ensure the design plans were finalized before the start of construction. The next day the engineering students, contractor, and community members started to build the latrine. Each student had a hand in digging the base, leveling out a strong foundation, mixing concrete, and applying mortar for the walls.

To better understand the local sanitation practices, students interviewed community members to discuss their hand washing practices and the location of hand washing stations. Through the interviews, the students determined the community needs to understand the nuances of the compostable latrine and the importance of handwashing in order for the project to be a success.

The Armour students then met with the teachers at the local school to develop a lesson plan, which included a coloring packet and laminated posters, to teach the children the importance of washing their hands. The engineering students then became the teachers and presented the information to the local children. Community leaders will continue the hand washing seminars to ensure that the community is properly educated on how to best use and care for their new facilities.

By the end of the trip, the students had finalized the design of the handwashing station with the contractor, along with the steel structure that would hold the water tank for the station. The students left San Claudio in full confidence that the construction would be completed as planned by community members.

Completed Compostable Latrine built by Armour students

Image of finished latrine.

This semester, the group will continue to coordinate tutorials describing proper hand washing and latrine use for the community to ensure they are adapting well to their new facilities. They will plan a trip next summer to monitor the latrine use and discuss the project with the community.

Trips made by student groups can benefit students as much as the communities they are helping. Students can learn lessons during these immersive experiences not available in the classroom or through a summer job. “Never will someone be interviewing community members in 110 degree heat, giving classroom lessons to students about washing their hands, or be directly involved in constructing latrines alongside community members and workers in a traditional job or internship”, says the group’s president, Oscar Guzman.

“Experiential Learning trips like our trip to Nicaragua are just as beneficial as internships or co-ops. They give you professional experiences and networks that can help you during your career search” says Akshar Patel, one of the group’s mentors and a Career Coach with Illinois Tech’s Career Services office. “Thinking and working on the fly are also skills we had to develop while working in Nicaragua which are all skills that translate to professional development,” adds Sayeed Muhammed, EWB-IIT’s Vice President.

Fundraising for the project is an ongoing effort for the group. Partial funding for the trip was provided through the Armour College Student-Led Project Funding Program. Armour has recently issued a call for proposals to fund student-led projects that will positively impact the Illinois Tech and Armour College community this fall. Learn more about the program here, and submit your proposal by September 16, 2016. The 3rd Annual EWB-IIT Gala Event and Silent Auction is scheduled for October 14, 2016 to raise funds for the group’s trip next summer. Check the group’s Facebook page for updates on the event.

View a photo gallery of the group's trip

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