Engineers Without Borders

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Engineers Without Borders
Founded: 2004
Recognition: ABC
Membership: 70 Actively Involved (involved in weekly meetings & implementation trips); 1,313 Peripherally Involved (engaged on listserv)
Executive Board: 2015 Year
Sidney Perkins, Co-President
Robert Viramontes, Co-President
Sarah Yang, Funding Chair
Jessica Zhao, Education Chair
Diana Jaramillo, Public Relations Chair
Bunmi Solano, Events Chair
Natalia Jacobowitz, Secretary
Madison Cox, Treasurer
Lilly Wang, Webmaster
Adam Hadar, Travel Chair
Christine Djan, Project Manager (Ghana)
Leerang Yang, Project Manager (Ghana)
Ben Drachman, Project Manager (Uganda)
Aaron Appelle, Project Manager (Morocco)
Sarah Yang, Project Manager (Morocco)
Category: Community Service, Pre-professional

Engineers Without Borders is a student chapter of the NGO Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA), whose mission is to support “community-driven development programs worldwide by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects.” They are a student volunteer organization aimed at applying technical engineering skills toward aiding impoverished communities across the world. This is achieved designed solutions to problems raised by a community in a developing country, raising funds for these designs and finally sending groups of students to the country in order to implement these solutions.

Vision and Mission

Our vision is a world in which the communities we serve have the capacity to sustainably meet their basic human needs, and that our members have enriched global perspectives through the innovative professional educational opportunities that the EWB-USA program provides.

EWB-USA supports community-driven development programs worldwide by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects, while creating transformative experiences and responsible leaders.

Past Projects

  • Orissa, India - building a micro hydro system to provide a low cost energy source to the community

Current Projects

Obadan, Amanfrom, and Kwasi Doi, Ghana

The Ghana Program of CU-EWB works in the village of Obodan, in the Eastern Region between Nsawam and Aburi. Since 2004, the program has sought to improve sanitation and access to water resources while focusing on developing methods to convert waste to energy via source-separated lines. This innovative latrine separates liquid and solid waste, allowing the waste to decompose naturally without odors and allowing villagers to safely clean out the facility on their own. The nitrogen-rich urine that is collected can be used for fertilizer on villagers' farms and even aid bacteria in producing biomass to be used for methane, and solid composed waste can be used as a source of renewable energy.

Based on feedback from villagers in Obodan, and considering that the population subsists on farming, the program improved upon the main public latrine, a Kumasi Ventilated Improved Pit (KVIP). Though helpful in addressing the shortage of proper sanitation facilities, the KVIP was not an ideal solution due to its release of strong odors and need for relatively expensive cleaning procedures. Beginning in 2010, the program began to implement source-separated latrines in Obodan and surrounding villages. These consist of two chambers below ground, where only one is used at a time while the other is covered and composting. After roughly half a year, the other chamber is used.

The community of Obodan had expressed a desire for a water distribution system, which became the focus of the program's work once the latrines were completed. The villagers had been obtaining water from two manual pumps installed in two boreholes. The water from the closer borehole, however, was neither satisfactory by Ghanaian nor by WHO standards for use as drinking water. The location of the better-functioning pump in the borehole that produced cleaner water was rather distant and required traveling along a hill by the side of a busy road. A number of deaths had occurred because of the traffic traveling over the hill and not seeing the children coming up on the other side.

A number of trips were dedicated both to monitoring the latrines built in Obodan and surrounding villages, namely Kwasi Doi. In August of 2013, the team successfully constructed the water distribution system. An electric-powered submersible pump was installed in the borehole with the less functional pump. Because the water was thought to be contaminated by the pump itself, the pump was thought to be sufficient to produce clean water, as the aquifer produced potable water in the farther borehole. The water is pumped up to the surface and through pipes uphill into two 10,000 liter storage tanks. From there, water flows by gravity throughout the village into three spigot locations. The storage capacity is estimated to provide enough water for each member of the population to use the amount of water recommended by the World Health Organization to maintain health for three to five days to account for the electricity being intermittent.

The program is currently monitoring the latrines and water system and beginning research on building a water system in the nearby village of Amanfrom. The water system in Obodan has been reported to be functioning, though the pump turns off unexpectedly at times. The latrines required more education on usage and more regular maintenance and cleaning. In addition, after the latrine in Kwasi Doi had to be sealed due to concerns that a crack might lead the waste to contaminate a nearby river, the team is preparing to construct a KVIP latrine in another location in the village.

Soroti, Uganda

The Community and PilgrimBiofuel Lab

The past twenty-five years have brought significant distress to Soroti in the form of multiple rebel insurgencies, regional conflicts, and cattle raids. In light of the returning peace, now is a critical time for the development of new industries and technologies. As families returned to their farms, Pilgrim established an extensive network of farming co-ops throughout the area to jumpstart development through the sharing of information and resources. Pilgrim’s strong, proven field capacity, along with the positive rapport already established with the community, is a strong asset in understanding community needs and facilitating workshops and trainings to increase community ownership of the infrastructure, making them an ideal partner for a scalable agricultural intervention.

Multifunction Platform

In rural regions like Soroti, a major obstacle to development is limited access to affordable energy. Increasing access to energy can free valuable time spent on repetitive or unhealthy tasks, and create the space necessary for further sustainable and poverty-reducing developments. Multifunction platforms (MFPs) have been proven as an effective piece of development infrastructure, providing important mechanization for agricultural processing, electricity generation, and domestic or irrigation water supply systems, often also resulting in significant income generation.


The main component of a Multifunction Platform (MFP) is a stationary diesel engine mounted on a fixed frame. The MFPs can be attached to various agricultural processing equipment such as millers, grinders, oil presses, water pumps, and electric generators. The engine is connected to one or more of the pieces of equipment at a time via a belt and pulley system, providing a host of services through its multi-functionality.

The MFP has been modified to run on straight vegetable oil through the use of a custom designed pre-heater kit. The pre-heater kit uses heat from the engine’s combustion chamber to lower the oil’s viscosity to a level suitable for engine use.

Jatropha Seeds

The use of locally grown jatropha oil as the fuel source for MFPs has both environmental and economic benefit over traditional fossil fuels and would provide the region with energy independence and income-generating opportunities. Jatropha has gained much popularity recently as a biodiesel feedstock, though the body of research is still limited. The Uganda program supports Pilgrim in its efforts to encourage cultivation of jatropha in the community.

Rainwater Harvesting and Water Distribution

CU-EWB Uganda is working with Pilgrim’s Beacon of Hope College in Soroti to address their water needs. Since the water supply at the school is unreliable and the rainwater harvesting system is broken, the students have to take time out of their schedules to get water from a nearby well. By fixing the rainwater harvesting system and implementing a water distribution system, the Uganda program hopes to free up valuable time for the students to pursue their own interests and studies.

Rainwater Harvesting

Since the current rainwater harvesting system at the school has a broken tank, CU-EWB Uganda is looking to fix or replace the existing tank and install a first flush system. The first flush system will provide a cleaner rainwater supply by keeping dirt, debris, and other large contaminants from the roof out of the water supply.

Water Distribution System

The school campus only has one city-provided water tap, forcing faculty and student to walk large distances for water. This makes taking showers, cooking meals, and completing science labs especially inconvenient. Therefore, CU-EWB is planning improve access to the city water by implementing a water distribution system with three additional taps. The taps will be located in front of the kitchen, girls’ hostel, and the latrines.

Ait Bayoud, Morocco

The Bridge Project

The Morocco Program began after CC '09 alum Nina Morency-Brassard contacted CU-EWB while she was a Peace Corps Volunteer stationed in Ait Bayoud, Morocco. Nina told the members of CU-EWB that when the large river running through Ait Bayoud floods, villagers on one side of the river cannot access medical and educational facilities. CU-EWB found the river valley a promising place to build a bridge and connect the two sides of the river, even during the wet season, and thus decided to start a program in Morocco. After assessment trips in Summer 2011 and Winter 2012, the Morocco program was ready to implement a simple suspension synthetic cable footbridge, designed by HNTB bridge engineer Ryan Woodward. While the bridge was originally set to be completed during the Summer 2012 trip, a failure in the tensioning system of the cables led to equipment damage which unfortunately forced the travel team to head back to the United States with an uncompleted bridge. However, after another assessment trip in Winter 2013, a travel team was able to complete the bridge in Summer 2013. The bridge is in full operation today, and after a repair and monitoring trip in Winter 2014, it is stronger than ever. The Morocco program is still working to improve their bridge even further in the future.

The record-setting bridge is the world's longest simple suspension synthetic cable bridge. The groundbreaking design involves a wooden deck resting on 4 high density polyethylene cables, with 3 of the same cables (covered in firehose) acting as hand rails on each side. The cables pass through concrete towers and are anchored in to the ground. The bridge employs various mechanisms, including perimeter-rope enforced netting and hinge-plate covered expansion joint, to keep it comfortable and safe for the villagers and their livestock to use every day.

The Water Project

After completing the bridge, the Morocco Program directed its attention towards a water distribution system in a village about an hour away from the bridge in an area known as Izgouaren. Currently, the people in this community live on a plateau 350 feet above the local river and water source. It takes them an hour to walk down to the closest spring to fill up water jugs, and many families make this trip 3 or 4 times a day. Further removed from the river is an affiliated community called Ilguiloda, where the people take 2 hours to walk to the spring or use an unreliable well for 6 months of the year. The EWB team is now working to dig a well close to the spring and pump this water to water towers in Izgouaren and Ilguiloda. Ideally, implementation will begin in the summer 2014.

External Links

Columbia University Engineers Without Borders Official Website