Engineering organization builds clean water pipeline in Costa Rica

Katharine Toledo, Staff Reporter

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This past week, engineering students affiliated with the Humanitarian Design Corps (HDC) at Case Western Reserve University spent their spring break traveling to Costa Rica to continue their involvement with the province of Guanacaste through the development of a water pipeline that will greatly improve the community’s quality of life.

HDC, a part of the organization Engineers Without Borders (EWB), helps to advance both the learning experiences of its participants and the development of the world by encouraging its participants to consider worldwide issues such as clean water, sanitation and sustainability and educating them on these issues.

While the HDC is affiliated with the EWB, a national organization, HDC has more flexibility in selecting projects and commitments that are valuable to its students. The work of HDC in Costa Rica is only one of three international projects; students are also currently working on initiatives in Malawi and the Dominican Republic.

The HDC became involved with the province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica through Kurt Rhoads, an associate professor of civil engineering at CWRU. The Costa Rica initiative, which began in July 2016, has consisted of three different trips to the Latin American country since the project’s launch in January 2017. The pipeline itself was created in March 2018, but the HDC team returned to Costa Rica over spring break in order to repair issues with the pipe’s infrastructure, test the water quality and add length to the pipeline with the purpose of tracking and evaluating the amount of water consumed by the village.

The organization’s work is particularly important because of its interdisciplinary nature: in addition to the engineering components of the project, the students involved in Costa Rica were compelled to combine their foreign language skills with their work on the pipeline. While many of the students did not speak Spanish, they acquired language skills along the way that helped them to communicate with the residents of Guanacaste, many of whom housed the students working on the pipeline.

Even after the Costa Rica pipeline is completed, the HDC hopes to continue to be involved with the residents of the village on a personal level. Throughout their time in Costa Rica, students of the HDC have become close to their hosts and maintain social media relationships with the residents. HDC involvement in Costa Rica fosters this interconnectedness on both a personal and humanitarian level.