Temple's Engineers Without Borders chapter takes on a new challenge


Over winter break the members of the Temple chapter of Engineers Without Borders travelled to Peru. The trip was the first dedicated to devising a way to bring clean drinking water to the community of about 30 in the small farming village of Saacha.


This tiny community in northern Peru is over 10,000 feet above sea level and has a river as its lone water source. On a monthly basis villagers pull water through a pipeline into a holding pen on each of their properties. This is used for all their needs - from irrigation to cooking and consumption. These receptacles aren't covered or treated, allowing exposure for anything to get into the water supply.

Saacha reached out to the Engineers Without Borders national organization to help solve this issue. Temple applied to take on the project last year. The students appreciate the opportunity to work with the residents to improve the conditions. "It's not just a group of people coming in and saying, 'We think this is good for you'", said civil engineering junior Claire Marshall. "It's something they stress a lot about the sustainability of a project. We have a five-year commitment with the community to make this project work and make sure this is going to last and it's not just a temporary fix. That it's something the community knows how to sustain. That's really important and, I think, a really cool thing about it."

The group travelled to Peru during the break to survey the region and determine the viability of the proposed source. Getting to the site was quite laborious. The engineers flew from Philadelphia to Miami, onto Lima, then Trujillo. From there, a three hour ride took them to Otuzco, the provincial capital. Every day, the group drove an hour to Saacha, along mountain roads. Acclimating to the thin air about two miles above sea level wasn't easy. "The first day we were huffing and puffing," said mechanical engineering junior Zachary Klee, the project lead and president of the chapter. "It was rough."

The engineers found a spring elevated above the community that will likely serve as the new water source. This semester, they are attempting to design a way to distribute the water to the residents. The elevation difference means water pressure will need to be reduced to allow safe transfer. They are also thinking that the community will have individual holding tanks as well as a larger one. Part of the challenge will be creating a system that distributes the water across a wide swath of land with some houses in the valley and some on the mountainside, spread out over miles.

The students are getting help from a variety of experts and volunteers. The national chapter of Engineers Without Borders has paired them with local professionals to serve as mentors. The group traveled with two translators, one of whom is Ashley Shaffer, a Ph.D. student in the Spanish and Portuguese department at Temple. "We owe so much of our trip to our translators," said Marshall. "None of us have been to South America before. Directness was an issue that always came up. Answers to things like, how many people live here, might be different from what they might say if someone else asked them, not intentionally misdirecting at all, but answers varied a lot, depending on when it was asked and how it was asked."

The group is currently looking for donations to help acquire materials for this project. You can contribute here.

Check out the great photos of the trip>

Watch the EWB chapter's video>