Many give of their time and talents to make the world a better place. While changing the lives of others, it’s not uncommon that they are changing their own lives. When asked why they freely share of themselves, their answers represent a common theme, rooted neither in politics nor religion, nor a mission to travel and experience new things. What matters is they are making the lives of other people better.
With about 12,000 members, Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA) currently works on more than 350 projects in 45 developing countries to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.
The Jacksonville Professional Chapter of EWB-USA is currently working on a project in the Nahuaterique region of Honduras. The project is sponsored by a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC). ADEC’s mission is to provide water boards and specialized technical assistance, training, equipment and installation to improve the quality of water, sanitation, health and hygiene and thus achieve sustainable community development in the rural areas of Honduras.
Crystal Markley, civil engineer in Engineering Division, has worked on two such projects since joining EWB-USA. She has a degree in agricultural and biological engineering from Pennsylvania State University and joined Jacksonville District in July 2010, after a year working as a contractor to the Corps.
EWB-USA programs are partnerships with communities and one or more local NGOs. EWB-USA members train local community members and NGOs to successfully monitor and maintain the projects. These partnerships form the basis of a long-term relationship, ensuring the basic needs of the community are met, and will remain in place long after direct EWB-USA involvement ends.
“The first phase of the trip was last December, where we identified three potential projects,” said Markley. “We returned in May to secure water agreements and establish community relations.” However, one of the three projects was delayed due to problems obtaining a water agreement.
The property with the water source is owned by a single landowner, requiring a two-hour trip into the mountains to obtain a signed water agreement. Surveys and soil strength samples must also be taken to support the design.
“Our overall mission is to improve access to clean water and sanitation in the Nahuaterique region of Honduras,” said Markley. The water supply system was for the joint communities of Las Vegas and Caiman, with a combined population of about 300.
Providing clean water to these communities will improve the overall health of the community by reducing waterborne illnesses. The crop production and capabilities of the community may also improve, as people currently consumed with the task of gathering water will be able contribute to other tasks. Women will have more time to earn a living by making crafts to sell and children will have more time for education.
Water sources will be protected by implementing improved agriculture methods, irrigation and storm water management. As easier access to clean water becomes available, sanitation improvements may be implemented to treat the additional wastewater. The community partners will be educated about the operation and the maintenance of the systems, and a Water Board and fee structure will be developed to pay for the upkeep and maintenance. It was the community’s wish to have tap water at each house.
Markley said that it is imperative that the community has a part in construction of the project as it gives them ownership. “The community will gladly do the manual labor, from digging trenches and collecting rocks to assisting with tank construction,” said Markley. They are taught how to maintain the project and EWB returns periodically to ensure the system works as long as possible.
“The thing I love about Engineers Without Borders,” said Markley, “is that when I’m working with them, I feel like I’m giving back by using my engineering skills.” Markley said that among the best benefits she has received from working with EWB are leadership, problem solving and communication skills training.
The EWB team often brings gifts for the impoverished children of the villages they service. Markley walks through the village distributing hair bows, tank tops and toys to the children.
Now that data collection is complete, Markley’s team will work on project design, which will submitted to EWB-USA for approval. They plan to travel back to Honduras for construction of the project in two phases – in October 2013 and March 2014. Markley takes annual leave to travel with EWB.
Markley said that it helps to travel with other experienced professionals. “You tend to find the people who have been around the block a few times. There is one woman who worked first for the Peace Corps and now works with our EWB chapter,” said Markley. “I get all my tips from her. Every time you go on one of these trips, you learn what to do and what not to do. And if you have a seasoned professional [with you], who has been all over the world, and knows many languages and many cultures, you are ahead of the game.” Markley doesn’t know Spanish, but plans to learn it soon. “It would really help, especially where I am now.”
“The things that people in Engineers Without Borders do are an inspiration to me and that’s why I like volunteering with them,” said Markley. “The effort to help a fellow human being and make their lives better. To give back some of what we have.”