Baylor's 'Engineers With A Mission' Bring Light To Honduran Villages; Water Purification To Rwandan Town

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    Engineers with a Mission.
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    Engineers with a Mission
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    Engineers with a Mission.
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    Engineers with a Mission.
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    Engineers with a Mission.
June 30, 2009

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Fourteen-hour work days, blistering sun and high humidity, six flat tires and a 7.1 earthquake. Those were some of the normal working conditions that members of Baylor University's Engineers with a Mission faced in a span of just two weeks as they worked to bring reliable electricity to one small Honduran village and upgrade existing electricity to another.

"Life threw us a few curveballs, but we accomplished what we set out to do," said Brian Thomas, senior lecturer of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor, who acts as the faculty adviser to Engineers with a Mission. "We also started getting some interest from other villages in the area that were curious about bringing electricity to their town. It's a great feeling knowing you are helping someone in need."

Baylor's Engineers with a Mission greatly expanded its coverage this year on the group's third annual trip to Honduras. With 10 students and two Baylor faculty, it was the largest group ever to travel together to the Central American country. The group split into two smaller groups and traveled to two separate villages.

In the first village, Danta Uno, which is located in the north central part of Honduras, Baylor engineering students installed a new piping system that allowed the generator to operate 24 hours a day, meaning residents had access to electricity around the clock. The Baylor engineers also installed circuit breaker devices to 25 individual homes. The devices act as a safety device and as a limiting device to make sure each resident uses their fair share. The circuit breakers also brought a change in the pricing structure for the residents of Danta Uno, from a metered system to a fixed-rate tier system.

"It was something we were worried about because it could mean a slight monetary increase for the homeowner," Thomas said. "But they realized that it meant they could have light and electricity all day and all night and the price increase was not substantial."

In the second village, Pueblo Nuevo, another group of Baylor engineering students installed an electrical grid system and power lines to about 50 homes. They also began laying the foundation for a large micro-hydroelectric generator, which should provide electricity to light about 60 homes. Most of the residents are poor agricultural farmers and use homemade kerosene "candils" for home lighting. The candils are glass jars of kerosene with a cloth wick cut from old clothing. They are costly, give poor light and are a fire hazard.

The project, however, was not without several challenges. A 7.1 earthquake did not make things better, but it did not damage the generators or the electrical infrastructure in the villages. The Baylor workers also needed to figure out what they were going use as power poles for the thousands of feet electrical wire needed to bring power to the homes. After gathering input from residents, the Baylor engineers decided to use a native tree that naturally re-grows after being cut, giving the power poles a natural look once the trees re-grow.

Thomas said the entire experience was transformative for the students, stretching them spiritually, mentally and physically. Aside from the grueling 14-hour work days, seeing the living conditions first-hand can take its toll. Each night, the group held discussions about poverty, wealth and suffering.

"It's sometimes a shock to our students to see people dealing with suffering and being afforded no opportunities," Thomas said. "Each night, we asked the students questions like what are the spiritual moments of the day and how does this affect your relationship with God."

Expanded Effort

This year's Engineers with a Mission also included a group that traveled to two villages in Africa to install water purification systems in two schools. Dr. Bill Jordan, professor and chair of the department of mechanical engineering at Baylor, led a group of 35 Baylor faculty, engineering and business students to a mountain village in Rwanda, Musanze.

The Baylor team partnered with Bridge2Rwanda, an organization aimed at advancing Rwandan technology and education. The Baylor team split into three smaller teams: engineering, business and social work. The Baylor engineering team was stationed at a school in Musanze that provides education to children and orphans. The students' original task was to build a solar panel system to power a technology lab. However, the panels were delayed in China because of funding and timing conflicts, so the team redirected its mission to several water purifying projects.

The team first installed a water purifier that connected directly to the primary school kitchen, meaning the school would no longer have to boil the water they use for cooking and drinking. The students also took measurements and determined the amount of pipeline that will be needed to connect a newly dug well on the school's property. Jordan said the importance of the projects was to provide long-term potable water access to the school, which was paying $2,000 a month for water and $800 a month for firewood to boil the water.

"I have been concerned for a long time about how engineers can help deal with extreme poverty in our world," Jordan said. "Leading our engineering students to Rwanda put these concerns into practice."

However, the most electrifying part of the trip, Jordan said, was when the Baylor students wanted to interact with the Rwandan students at the school by worshipping one Sunday morning. More than 500 children attended the nearly two hour service.

"It was a very lively service, especially with 500 African kids," Jordan said. "It is something I will always remember."

Engineers with a Mission is a unique Christian organization that envisions and mobilizes engineering students to serve the people of developing countries with their technical skills through appropriate technology projects and mission-oriented trips abroad.

Media contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, Assistant Vice President of Media Communications, 254-710-1964

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