Students Bring Water, Hope

Engineers Without Borders drill wells for town in Dominican Republic

While many Harvard students spent intersession recovering from a stressful exam period, seven volunteers from Harvard College Engineers Without Borders were busy drilling wells in the Dominican Republic.

“We were in the middle of a broccoli field covered in mud,” said Alison M. Forsyth, a research assistant in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a co-chair of the project.

The trip was the culmination of years of planning and two preliminary trips to the region that began in fall of 2007.

During their eight-day project in the semi-mountainous, rural town of Constanza, the students successfully drilled one well to provide clean water for a single Dominican family and began work on a second, which is expected to be completed by community members in Constanza after the group’s departure.

While the Dominican Republic has one of the fastest growing economies in the Caribbean and South America, the United States Agency for International Development reports that approximately 43 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

In Nov. 2007, the nascent student group, headed by founder Jacqueline E. Stenson ’08, led a preliminary expedition to the Dominican Republic to assess the public health situation in the region.

But when the group took a second trip to the area in May 2008, their attempt to build a well was unsuccessful.

Lazarus said that this year’s trip was a big step forward for the organization.

The young engineers constructed their own drilling rig with materials from a local hardware shop in Constanza. They used a novel drilling technique developed by Terry Waller, a missionary working with Water For All International, a non-governmental organization based in Texas.

According to Forsyth, the students hope to return to the area to build more wells with the help of local community members.

“We are empowering individual families to learn how to drill their own wells, as opposed to going into a region and giving someone who is poor something they don’t know how to maintain and improve,” Forsyth said.

According to Baltazar A. Zavala ’11, who was the only Spanish-speaking member of the trip, collaboration with the community was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project.

“It wasn’t just us solving the problem for them,” he said. “It was us working together with them to solve the problems.”

—Staff writer Niha S. Jain can be reached at nsjain@fas.harvard.edu.