UM Engineers Without Borders Adopting Village in Ecuador

Engineers Without Borders-Ole Miss members, from left, Dillon Hall, Vera Gardener, Cris Surbeck, Paul Scovazzo, Paige Lohman, Robert Holt, Timothy Steenwyk and Zach Lepchitz take a break from working with Togo, West Africa, residents. Submitted photo

Entering its seventh year of helping people in developing nations build sound infrastructures, members of the University of Mississippi chapter of Engineers Without Borders are adopting a small village in South America.

After working on two primary projects in Togo, West Africa, as well as several minor projects, the UM chapter has begun the process of adopting 25 de Diciembre in Ecuador. The community is named after a battle fought on the day commonly known as Christmas.

“We decided in May of 2017 that we would be able to take on a new project for the upcoming school year,” said David Thomas, EWB-Ole Miss chapter president. “During the fall semester, we filtered through all of the unassigned projects on the EWB-USA database and found several projects that could benefit from our previous experience that we’ve gained during our Togo projects.

“These final project prospects were put up to a chapter vote, and the Ecuador project was chosen.”

As with their Togo project, the group will use EWB-USA’s quality project process, which includes project initiation, project adoption, assessment, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and closeout.

EWB-USA makes a special point to mandate the use of locally sourced materials and labor. It also requires that the community contributes 10 percent of the project cost. These two criteria result in longer staying power of installed projects due to the community’s established hands-on role, which carries over to infrastructure maintenance.

“We have just wrapped up the project-adoption phase, having been given the official go-ahead from EWB-USA,” Thomas said. “Now we begin the exciting work of organizing an assessment trip.”

The people of 25 de Diciembre are in dire need of a clean water source as well as a sufficient irrigation system. In the assessment phase of the project, EWB will send members of the chapter to the community to speak with governing officials about their specific needs and how best to execute the endeavor.

The total cost for this project will be around $50,000 spent over the five-year duration. These funds will cover travel and food for the members and advisers, local labor and project material expenses. Engineers in Action will be EWB’s contact in Ecuador once the project is approved.

EWB launched a crowdfunding campaign through Ignite Ole Miss in December. With help from donors, the goal is to raise $20,000. Money received will enable members of EWB and School of Engineering faculty members to spend seven days there, planning how to provide clean water to the village.

“We are planning on sending our first team over for an assessment trip this May,” Thomas said. “The travel team will be selected based on specific skill sets needed including Spanish speakers, civil or geological engineers and those who have committed effort to the chapter and to fundraise for the project and advance it forward.

“We also consider class year and graduation dates. We want to incorporate a mix of ages so the project does not get stranded when upperclassmen graduate. Certain faculty advisers with prior experience drilling wells and working on international projects will also be a part of the travel team.”

While the population of 25 de Diciembre is concerned about clean drinking water, it also depends heavily on clean water for a variety of other crucial reasons, said Paul Scovazzo, professor of civil engineering and faculty adviser of EWB-Ole Miss.

“The community is very driven by agriculture, meaning that without clean water and a proper irrigation system, men and women struggle to feed themselves and their children,” Scovazzo said. “In addition to this, a lack of clean water creates troubling sanitation hazards for citizens who struggle to remain healthy and uncontaminated as they bathe.”

For more information about EWB-Ole Miss, visit To make donations through the Ignite Ole Miss website, go to

By Edwin B. Smith

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