Once the VMI EWB chapter was established, work began immediately. The VMI group linked up with students from Washington & Lee and began designing the new water and irrigation system for the people of Pampoyo. Since the group hadn’t actually visited the site the work was challenging. With help from a professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders, the group managed to pull together a hearty design for the system and collectively developed a solid plan for implementation.
The design was simple, but the difficulty of implementation was yet to be seen, none of us understood the implication of performing manual labor at 13,000+ feet. Either way, the goal was the same, help those in need and provide a preferential option for the people of Pampoyo. With that goal in mind, the work came easy.
Let me start by first explaining the problem. Pampoyo, once a bustling small town in the Andes Mountains was dying, their way of life, agriculture and livestock was being compromised. The only source of water in the area was contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, silver and copper due to mine tailings waste from years of unregulated mining in the area. The contamination was causing issues in the community that had far reaching consequences. The water was used for irrigation of the crops, watering of the livestock and sadly enough, drinking.
Child mortality in the area was close to 50% and the community was noticing personal health issues. The nearest hospital was a three hour walk into the nearest town of Potosi and crops and livestock were dying from poor water quality and refusal to drink. The population in the town was dwindling either from illness or from people simply moving away to find work and a better way of life. The town cried out for help, and EWB-VMI heard the call.
Working tirelessly, the students designed a two phase project, Phase I – build a catchment basin (or dam) to capture clean spring water upstream of the contamination and install 2,000 feet of 1.5 inch polyethylene pipe and Phase II – install an additional 8,000 feet of polyethylene pipe and two 6,000 liter tanks for water storage and distribution to the town and the crops. The group was supervised by professional engineers and plans were drawn up. The next step was to raise the funds for materials, construction and travel. By all accounts, a daunting task if work was being conducted in the U.S. (A project of this size would have easily cost more than $250,000). The fundraising goal for Phase I, a mere $5,000. Students reached out to family, friends and alumni via social media and local rotary clubs helped to raise a substantial portion of the money. The VMI Civil Engineering department was also very helpful with fundraising efforts as well. Funds were raised and travel to Pampoyo was set for July 2011.
**Funds are currently being raised for Phase II, the installation of 8,000 feet of polyethylene pipe and two 6,000 liter tanks. Distribution piping will also be purchased and installed. The new goal – $30,000, your support is appreciated.**
Stay tuned for the next post – Travel to Pampoyo and Implementation of the Plan.