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A Gift of Water for Dominican Village

Student chapter of Engineers Without Borders helped build water tower for community

Access to clean water should never be out of reach. But until last year, that was the reality for an impoverished community on the outskirts of La Romana Dominican Republic. Today, thanks to help from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Computing and Engineering’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter, members of the community now have access to clean water.

The project began nearly two years ago. In Jan. 2011, a preliminary assessment trip allowed the UMKC-EWB chapter to assess the community's needs. The group's most recent trip, in May 2012, followed up on their May 2011 trip, during which the group constructed a 24-foot water tower.

On their most recent trip, they worked on an electrical system, provided a chlorinator for the water, took care of some drainage issues, and educated community members on how to make use of the new improvements.

Levon Saiyan is the president of UMKC's chapter of EWB. He has been part of the project since its beginning more than two years ago. In that time, he helped draft plans for the tower. Later, he and fellow classmates cut steel bars and mixed concrete in the Dominican village. Most recently, he provided guidance on the follow-up trip.  

"It was a full experience on every level that you can imagine, from an engineering standpoint and from a humanitarian standpoint," Saiyan said. 

The process has been a long but rewarding one. On their first trip, the group assessed the situation and developed feasible solutions for the village's lack of adequate clean water.

Then, students from multiple engineering disciplines designed and planned a water tower. They were aided by strong support and guidance from the Kansas City professional engineering community as they drafted plans for the water tower. The plan called for a 2,500 gallon tank that could be filled twice a day and would provide potable drinking water to the community's church, a school attended by approximately 400 children, and about 50 nearby households, each with an average of seven occupants.

In May 2011, that plan became a reality, thanks to the efforts of an EWB team that included seven UMKC SCE students.

At this point, the group is moving on from the site. They're transferring the remainder of the project to the professional chapter of EWB, though they will remain involved to some degree to ensure the sustainability of the water and electrical system.

But their humanitarian efforts are far from over. The UMKC chapter of EWB is now shifting focus to other projects. Although they can't say for certain which one they'll choose, Saiyan says they're leaning toward a project in Panama.

Saiyan says that these projects are rewarding not only on an academic level, but on a personal level as well. Through projects like the one in the Dominican Republic, students use their education to create something tangible.

"It’s a real project. We have a real budget, real people we're working with. It's the real deal," Saiyan said.

Financial support for the project was provided by UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering, EWB-USA, Black and Veatch, and individual contributions from the students and professionals who traveled to the Dominican Republic.

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"It was a full experience on every level that you can imagine, from an engineering standpoint and from a humanitarian standpoint."

Levon Saiyan
Junior