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  • Really making a difference

    Rachel Schur Wagner

    The employees at LPEA are truly a part of everything you do in La Plata and Archuleta counties, but Staff Engineer Rachel Schur Wagner and intern Cliff Field took that tag line to a next level, traveling abroad and building water systems in Myanmar and Nicaragua as part of Fort Lewis College’s Village Aid Project/Engineers Without Borders (VAP/EWB).

    “My group traveled to Nang Boat. It’s a Pa’O village of about 100 households in Myanmar,” says Schur Wagner, referencing the country formerly known as Burma. “They are subsistence farmers, and we built their first real water system.”

    As she explains, the program has a five year commitment to a village, with the first year’s team traveling in-country to gather GPS data. During the following fall semester, the faculty and Professional Partners work with the students to design the water system before embarking on the two-week in-country construction effort. (Schur Wagner is now a Professional Partner, though she has been involved with the program at Fort Lewis since her days as an engineering student.)

    “It’s a lot of work to get done quickly,” she says noting her team included 12 students and three Professional Partners, including FLC faculty advisor Laurie Williams. “The students are phenomenal. You work from sun up until after it’s dark.”

    And they work side-by-side with the villagers, as that’s part of the agreement and commitment from the village. Villagers have buy-in to the project (as well as gain an understanding of their new water system).

    “Our goal is for everything to be sustainable for 20 years after we install it,” says Field, a FLC senior, who traveled to La Cieba, a village of about 23 households in the mountains of Nicaragua.

    The VAP/EWB teams trench from a fresh water source, typically a spring, to lay the transmission (pipe) line. In Nang Boat, that source (from which the villagers had been carrying water) was 2.25 miles. In La Ceiba, they transported water from a shallow stream.

    The team then builds a large water tank, plus a smaller distribution system around the village with water taps at various locations. “When we left, the water was flowing from every tap,” says Field.

    In coming years VAP/EWB teams will return to build latrines and ensure the entire system is functioning before moving on to new villages. “I am continually touched by the generosity of all our employees at LPEA,” says CEO Mike Dreyspring. “We are extremely proud of Rachel and Cliff, and I hope all our members are as well.”

    Village Aid Project/Engineers Without Borders provides students the opportunity to work on engineering-related projects that emphasize appropriate technology and sustainability in the developing world. It is all-volunteer, and projects – four per year that cost about $20,000 each for materials purchased in-country – are made possible through community donations (the volunteers pay their own travel). To support the program, visit www.fortlewis.edu/ewb/SupportEWB or contact Schur Wagner directly at rschurwagner@lpea.coop.

    [Caption:]  Rachel Schur Wagner celebrates the delivery of fresh water to the villagers in Nang Boot, Myanmar.