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The Johns Hopkins University Chapter of Engineers Without Borders
Fabio Palacio, Carolyn Purington, Jessica Shiao, Yourong Su, Michael Wheeler, Jie Zhang
Undergraduate Students and recent graduates of Whiting School of Engineering
Members of Johns Hopkins University Chapter of Engineers without Borders
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

EWB 1Founded in Spring of 2005, the Johns Hopkins University Chapter of Engineers without Borders (JHU EWB-USA) is a student-driven organization that brings together students from throughout JHU with JHU faculty and professional partners from the local Baltimore/DC area and beyond to further the following mission, established by the national parent organization (EWB-USA):
The mission of EWB-USA is to partner with developing communities to improve their quality of life through the implementation of environmentally sustainable, equitable, and economical engineering projects. In the process of working to advance developing communities, EWB-USA promotes the development of globally aware and internationally responsible engineers, students, and professionals.
Within JHU EWB-USA, students navigate and hone their project development and management skills by conceiving, assessing, and implementing projects of aid in collaboration with numerous partners, the most important of who are the communities themselves. Students are involved from conception to after-care and assessment, and through finance, designing, construction, and on-going assessments at all stages of the projects. A brief summary of the on-going projects at JHU EWB-USA is included below:

Santa Rosa de Ayora, Ecuador

Construction of a day-care facility in a rural village, including construction of a Gabion wall to protect the building from possible mudslides
Founded Spring 2007

Chicorral, Guatemala

Potable water delivery to a rural mountainside community from a source located 100-m below the village
Founded Fall 2007

Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa

Installing (and building local capacity for the installation of) ram pump irrigation systems and other interventions in HIV/AIDS impacted rural communities
Founded Spring 2005

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Design and construction of an educational park to promote environmental sustainability in a Remington neighborhood; Partnered project
Founded Spring 2009

JHU EWB-USA students come from many different backgrounds. Although there certainly are many representatives from the Civil Engineering department and the Environmental Engineering department, nearly all of the engineering majors are represented among JHU EWB-USA team members. Indeed, membership is not limited to the Whiting School Engineering as there are dozens of students from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences working hard on JHU EWB-USA projects as well. The current executive board members and project leaders come from several different majors including Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Neuroscience, and International Relations. This wide range of educational backgrounds allows for broad and varied perspectives that are utilized to further JHU EWB-USA’s initiatives.

Ecuador Project

EWB 2 The community of Santa Rosa de Ayora (population ~1,050) is located in the mountainous region of Pichincha about 65 km outside of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. From a basic public health survey conducted on our May 2008 technical assessment trip, the community currently has 50 infants under 1 year old, 55 children ages 1-4 years, and 100 children 5-15 years. Given the number of children in the community, the current childcare facility (which the town does not own) is of inadequate size. Institutio Nacional de la Niñez y la Familia (INNFA), a national non-government organization (NGO) based in Quito, is unable to increase funding unless the nursery dimensions adhere to their funding regulations that is based on building size and other infrastructural dimensions and properties. Without funding, the nursery is inadequate, and many children are left unsupervised and unprotected in their homes while the parents work to support their families by working during the day. Being a poor community, some adults have to go to Quito in order to find jobs. Thus, the possibility of constructing a new nursery was brought to JHU EWB-USA’s attention by the Santa Rosa de Ayora community leaders to a team member from Ecuador. The community’s lack of resources to fully carry out planning, designing, engineering, and especially funding, is a key reason for JHU EWB-USA to aid in building this facility. Building an improved and expanded childcare facility would benefit all families by providing a safe location for the children to be supervised.

EWB 3 The community of Santa Rosa de Ayora has been unable to receive increased funding from INNFA for its current childcare facility (nursery). This is due to INNFA’s strict funding regulations that are based on building size. The current building currently provides less than one cubic meter per child, and the facility can only accommodate four and five year olds because there is only space for about thirty children. The new nursery design will provide over three cubic meters per child and an increased number of children, and will thus be eligible to receive increased INNFA funding. Hence, this project was proposed by the community itself and self-identified as the community’s highest priority because the youth’s well-being is of utmost concern.

The first assessment trip was completed in January 2007, and a positive relationship between community members and JHU EWB-USA was established. A second assessment trip to the community occurred in May-June 2008, and technical data was collected. We plan for a two to three phase implementation trip, due to the scope and timing of the project. Phase one was completed in January 2010 and included the construction of the Gabion Wall and the cutback of an earthen wall with an excavator. Phase two will be completion of the building structure and will begin in summer 2010 depending upon the extent of funding obtained.

Collaboration with Pontificia Universidad Católica

JHU is collaborating with the Pontificia Universidad Católica – Ecuador (PUCE) located in Quito, Ecuador ). PUCE undergraduate students must do community service as part of their graduation requirements, and EWB-USA JHU students have collaborated with PUCE civil engineering students on the nursery project. PUCE students have been invaluable in their knowledge of local design, construction skills, and Spanish.

PUCE students assisting in the construction of the Ecuador project’s retaining wall

Guatemala Project


Chicorral is a rural Guatemalan community located in the state of Totonicapan, north of Quetzaltenango. The closest town by U.S. standards is a ten kilometer bumpy ride down mountainous terrain. Although surrounding communities obtain water from a centralized water supply and distribution, the eighteen families that make up the water community of Chiccoral do not have rights to this system. The community recently gained access to grid electricity but electricity in the region is known to be unreliable.

The communal water source that is available year round is at the bottom of a 100 meter ravine. Some water sources are not reliable during a dry season from November to April during which there is less than two inches of precipitation per month. This spring is now owned by the water committee and the committee has documentation of the rights of passage for a piping path to extend from this location to a storage tank located next to the community building. The women and children of the village currently trek to the bottom of the ravine daily to obtain water for their families. This water is not chlorinated and public health surveys revealed a prevalence of diarrheal related diseases, especially in young children.


The Guatemala team, consisting of both JHU students and Baltimore city professionals, has designed a solar powered water pumping and chlorination system to alleviate both the physical burdens of this task and minimize health hazards of drinking unpurified water. About 120 meters of head will be overcome by durable submersible pump, powered by eleven 50W solar panels that will be installed on the roof of the Mayor building. The wiring and PVC pipe will traverse 13000 feet of terrain to arrive at the location of the top tank, across from the Mayor building. The two parallel pipes (water pipe and wiring) will be buried in a shovel’s width drench 1 ft underground. The pipe will be put together using screw-ends so that they can be easily replaced.

Collaboration with the Universidad de San Carlos

The JHU EWB-USA Guatemala team is currently collaborating with a group of students and professors from Universidad de San Carlos. The student leaders from both teams communicate regularly via Skype, and conference calls often arranged for any group discussions. The Universidad de San Carlos team has been a great resource in terms of communication with the community and the local material vendors. They have also offered valuable design ideas regarding locally used construction methods and materials which we adapted in our design. Although sometimes language can be a barrier, the Guatemala project members have been able to communicate well through student translators within the team.

South Africa Project

EWB 7 KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa suffers from a 39.1% HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, much higher than the 29% national average. Elderly grandmothers (ngogos) are left behind with the primary responsibility of caring for orphans and vulnerable children of afflicted parents. To support the children, the ngogos practice
subsistence agriculture. They experience great physical strains from manually carrying water from nearby streams to their gardens which takes time away from other daily activities, such as educating the children.


The ram pump uses hydraulic power to irrigate community gardens annually. The system serves as a low-cost, low-maintenance solution and will increase crop yield to improve the diet of the communities. JHU EWB-USA thus initiated the South Africa Project and made contact with Dave Alcock in 2005, the creator of the “Alcock” pump, made from recycled machine parts. The team has made long-term relationships with Mr. Alcock and ZAC and conducted several trips since. The JHU EWB-USA South Africa project’s short term goals involve implementing ram pump irrigation systems in rural communities surrounding Richmond, a village in KwaZulu-Natal, in order to increase garden productivity. The South Africa team’s long term goals involve collaborating with the Zakhe Agricultural College (ZAC) in dispersion of both the technology and education of the ram pump to better connect with the communities and promote sustainability.

Collaboration with the Zakhe Agricultural College

The JHU EWB-USA South Africa project works with its primary in-country community partner, Zakhe Agricultural College, to provide curriculum development at the school. This is a step toward JHU EWB-USA’s ultimate goal of empowering this group to take over irrigation system production, installment, and community support for maintenance of community gardeners in the rural regions around the Province that are supported by the school.

EWB 9 During the Summer 2009 trip, JHU EWB-USA held a meeting with the ZAC principal, director, University of KwaZulu-Natal professor, Rotary member, and math, science, and agriculture teachers. During this meeting, the South Africa team discussed goals of the school and how the team could assist. The South Africa team agreed that the ram pump located at ZAC would be maintained and that ZAC teachers would be trained on how to use the pump and how it can teach basic science principles. Members also discussed setting up a machine shop so that ZAC can one day manufacture the pumps and teach machining skills. The educational goals are two-fold: first, to teach practical hands-on-skills, and second, to convey importance of and effectively teach related math and science skills.

Later in the discussion, the ZAC math, science, and agriculture teachers discussed the items included in their curriculum and shared a copy of the South Africa curriculum with the JHU EWB-USA South Africa project. The team discussed different ways to effectively integrate the ram pump technology into the students’ curriculum. One of the EWB students sat in on two classes to better understand the teaching methods used. The EWB mentor, Professor Bill Ball, taught the ZAC employees the theory behind the ram pump and trained them on how to fix the pump located at ZAC.

Baltimore Project (JHU EWB-USA Partnered Project)

The Baltimore Project is a new project started in 2008, that is partnered with Engineers Without Borders, Johns Hopkins chapter. The project focuses on the community of Remington, just west of the Hopkins campus. The recent influx of young families into Remington has revealed the neighborhood's lack of a public space that is safe for children to play in. In addition, many residents do not fully appreciate the benefits of native plant species and green space. The lack of a garbage disposal and recycling program is also an ongoing problem. Project members are currently designing the plans to build a community park and educational garden next to the new Remington pumping station.

EWB 10

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©May 2010 The Johns Hopkins University New Horizons for Learning

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