Walla Walla University engineering group expands school in Honduras

A group from Walla Walla University also plans a fundraiser to help pay for future work in the country.

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Over spring break, a team of eight representatives from Walla Walla University spent their days working with the community members of a village in Luis Garcia Bustamante, Honduras. They were all part of WWU's chapter of Engineers Without Borders, and their goal was to expand the local elementary school by building five new classrooms.

This would allow all 500-plus students to attend classes in an enclosed area, as opposed to their previous setup with desks and chalkboards outside under the trees.

Much of the work was completed before the WWU team arrived, as is the policy for EWB projects.

"The idea behind this policy is that we won't do something the locals don't want," explains John Hawkins, president of EWB-WWU and a senior mechanical engineering and mathematics major. "The people must be on-board with the project 100 percent, or we won't do it. We don't want to force things on them."

The team included five current WWU students, two faculty members and one alumnus, who, among other things, acted as the documenter of the trip, recording video, taking pictures and posting blog updates.

"We learned a tremendous amount about teamwork, cultural differences and construction," says Curt Nelson, professor of engineering at WWU and one of the faculty sponsors of the trip. "I was very impressed by the dedication of our EWB group, as well."

Due to the concrete-pouring process which involved forming, pouring and curing, the team was often working until 3 or 4 a.m. in an effort to complete the project in the time they were there.

While there, the team assessed options for the second phase of the project. Potentials include a rain-water catching system, bridge design for the one road leading to the village, latrine design, security wall, and the possibility of more classrooms so the school can expand beyond an elementary school.

"A likely timeframe for the next phase is as early as between late summer 2010 to summer 2011," says Nelson. "It all depends on fundraising."

To raise funds for further work in Honduras, EWB-WWU is holding its second annual spring gala April 25 in the Reid Campus Center on the campus of Whitman College. Tickets are available at an early bird rate of $35 until 5 p.m. today. To buy tickets for this banquet and silent auction event, call the School of Engineering at WWU at 509-527-2765 or go to ewb-wwu.org/gala.

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