Walla Walla University engineering students recently helped Honduran school

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A team of Walla Walla University engineering students recently spent close to two weeks in Honduras, helping expand the only grade school in a village.

Through the university's first Engineers Without Borders outreach project, the five students, joined by two professors and one alumnus, oversaw the construction of five new classrooms to serve children of Luis Garcia, a refugee town created in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Luis Garcia is now an established town with close to 3,000 residents, who made it their priority to offer their children a school. In 2006, residents pooled $2,500 to build the school, and constructed it themselves with some support from a nongovernmental agency.

Although the community operates with no sanitation system - only outhouses - and needs roads and a bridge, community members told the engineering students expanding the school was a top goal.

And so a partnership was developed between Luis Garcia residents and the Walla Walla University students to design and build new classrooms to serve the community's growing population of children.

The Engineers Without Borders team was in Honduras March 18-30. They are John Hawkins, Amber Mitchell, Kimberly Coggins, Erica Aamodt, Jorge Campos and Alex English. English, an alumnus, provided professional photography and videography for the trip. They were joined by professors Louie Yaw and Curt Nelson.

Hawkins, a senior at WWU, is the Engineers Without Borders chapter president. He worked with Nelson to establish the chapter about three years ago. In that time, the group identified Luis Garcia for its first project.

In Sept. 2008, Hawkins and Curtis traveled to Luis Garcia on an assessment trip, where they got a true scope for the needed work. They met with local residents, assessed the school, and learned it needed more classrooms, bathrooms and fencing.

The desire to help the community was magnified by the reality of Luis Garcia as a refugee town.

"All of the people who live in Luis Garcia had their homes destroyed by Hurricane Mitch a few years ago," Hawkins said.

Back at Walla Walla University, three students made designing the classroom buildings their senior projects last year.

Those designs were taken to Luis Garcia, where local builders started some of the preliminary work. The rest of the project was built primarily by local workers. The WWU students provided the designs, and oversaw the project's completion.

The March trip was the first phase of a two-phase plan to continue supporting the community. The WWU team hopes to tackle other engineering needs in the village, like possibly putting in a water diversion system at the school. The village's runoff water drains through the school's field, causing serious health concerns.

Hawkins said he was drawn to establishing Engineers Without Borders at the university by a desire to share his engineering education with a community in need.

"To help an elementary school, where kids can learn to read and write and do basic math, who wouldn't otherwise get the chance, that really appeals to me," he said.

Nelson echoed the sentiment, saying a similar feeling drove him to bring Engineers Without Borders to WWU.

"Engineers are realizing now what an impact they can have in the world," Nelson said. "I'm just happy to be surrounded by those types of students."

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