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UC Engineers Without Borders designs water solutions that last

UC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders has spent the last 10 years at work in Tanzania, designing sustainable water systems for thousands of people

Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest freshwater lake. It’s also the breeding ground of deadly bacteria.

For water-stressed villages on the lake’s shores, that bacteria is a big problem.

Enter Engineers Without Borders at the University of Cincinnati. For 10 years, UC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders has tackled water problems in Northwest Tanzania, an area that straddles Lake Victoria. A big part of the chapter’s success is its sustainable approach.

“We do long-term preventative measures to maintain the health of communities,” said Maia Forman, incoming president of UC’s chapter. “It’s not just a quick fix, and I think that’s why we’re so passionate about it.”

The chapter’s efforts reflect the urban impact platform of UC’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here

students working on water pipe

UC students and community members of Nyambogo, a village in Tanzania, work on a water pipe. UC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders has built wells, water tanks, latrines, handwashing stations and water distribution systems, all with the goal of providing Tanzanian community members with safe, accessible drinking water. Photo/Provided

UC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders has worked on projects in Africa for over a decade. In 2009, the chapter moved its sole focus to Tanzania when it partnered with UC startup and nonprofit, Village Life Outreach Project.

Village Life Outreach Project operates in Tanzanian villages to fight poverty and improve healthcare and education. When Village Life Outreach Project started treating community members who consumed the deadly bacteria in Lake Victoria, students at Engineers Without Borders-UC saw a way to help. 

people inserting water piping into ground

Community members in Burere, a village in Tanzania, insert an underground water pump. UC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders works in three villages: Nyambogo, Roche and Burere. Photo/Provided

“The problem was that even though Village Life Outreach Project would treat community members, these people would go back and get the same water,” said Ananya Nijhawan, outgoing president of UC’s chapter.

“We’re keeping these communities from continuing to get sick,” added Eva Sofge, vice president of projects.

In the last decade, UC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders has built wells, water tanks, latrines, handwashing stations and water distribution systems, all with the goal of providing Tanzanian community members with safe, accessible drinking water independent of Lake Victoria.

The chapter started in one Tanzanian village, Nyambogo, but as Village Life Outreach Project expanded to other villages, so too did Engineers Without Borders-UC. Now, UC’s chapter works in three villages: Nyambogo, Roche and Burere.

In Nyambogo, the chapter has installed a water distribution system that serves 7,000 people. This August, UC students will build 12 latrines and handwashing stations. In Roche, the chapter recently built several water distribution lines for a school, serving 1,400 people. In Burere, students recently installed a pump and well that serves 6,000 people. 

We do long-term preventative measures to maintain the health of communities. It’s not just a quick fix, and I think that’s why we’re so passionate about it.

Maia Forman, incoming president, Engineer Without Borders-UC

community members install solar panels

Community members of Burere install solar panels. All of the Engineer Without Borders projects are completely sustainable. Photo/Provided

water tower in Tanzania

Community members inspect a water tower in Roche. Photo/Provided

All these projects are completely sustainable. Some projects are solar powered. Others rely on the market: Community members sell the water and put that money into an operating fund for future maintenance or repairs. No matter how the projects work, students design these projects to stay.

One of the chapter’s most innovative projects is a mobile latrine. Most latrines are heavy and permanent. When pits fill up, the latrines over top of them have to be demolished and rebuilt. UC students are designing a mobile latrine that uses lightweight and affordable materials like PVC pipes and sheet metal sidings. The team tested a prototype last August and is making final tweaks to the design. If successful, the mobile latrine can be used across the country.

Looking forward, the chapter will continue developing and maintaining its long-lasting solutions in Tanzania. Students are completing sanitation projects in Nyambogo and hope to eventually direct focus to less-established projects in Roche and Burere. Wherever they go, their impact will be felt for a long time.

“We don’t just go there and do something and then come back to the US and never see it again,” said Nijhawan. “We actually work with community members to see what they need. It’s a great partnership.”

Featured image at top: A UC student talks with children at a local school in Tanzania. In Roche, the chapter recently built several water distribution lines for a school, serving 1,400 people. Photo/Provided

students pose in Nyambogo

UC students and community members of Nyambogo pose for a picture after completing a water project. Photo/Provided

Get Involved

UC’s Engineers Without Borders Chapter is hosting a spring picnic to celebrate and recap the year. It will be Saturday, Apr. 20 at 5:30 p.m. Register for the picnic.

To learn more about the organization, email the UC Engineer Without Borders President at ucewb.president@gmail.com.  

Award-winning

UC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders was recently recognized for their work. The organization received the 2019 UC Global Impact Award at the Celebration of Student Involvement Banquet and won first place prize for student organizations at the 2019 Student Impact Symposium.

Changing Outcomes, Saving Lives

With its investment in water access, UC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders is committed to changing outcomes and saving lives. The work reflects the urban impact platform of UC’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here