Engineers Without Borders

CMT’s Allen Oertel and a group of three engineering students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale recently embarked on a fact-finding trip to a village in Guatemala greatly in need of improved water and sanitation facilities. The group traveled to Las Mojarras, a village in the remote northwestern part of the country with a large Mayan population, where they met with community leaders who expressed their desire to have water service available throughout the village.

“I always compare these first trips into a community to a first date,” Oertel said. “You have to find out first of all if you are compatible with the community and if they have the desire to help themselves. Since we have a willing and capable community, and a project that is within our capability, we’ll go from there.”

Las Mojarras, located five miles south of the Mexican border, suffered through many years of conflict and depopulation as the result of civil war in the 80s and 90s. Although peace has been restored, the area’s infrastructure is still woefully inadequate. Oertel is proposing to address their water needs by constructing an elevated water tank that will serve the entire village.

Oertel and the students were accompanied on the trip by Teresa Cranmer, the head of the Mustard Seed Peace Project (MSPP). MSPP is an Illinois-based organization that works with families throughout the world to develop sustainable programs that address their educational, medical, nutritional and economic needs. As the project progresses, Oertel also hopes to enlist the services of engineering students at Raphael Landivar University in Guatemala City.

The group plans to return to Las Mojarras in August of this year to collect more data for ongoing planning. If all goes well, they would like to see construction on the water tank begin in 2016 or 2017.

“There are, however, many miles to cross before we get to that point,” Oertel said.