by Karen Medina, NM WRRI Student Graduate Specialist
Last May, Aggies Without Limits (AWL) had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala to build a gravity water system for the community of San Jose Lote 19 in Zona Reyna, Guatemala. AWL is an NMSU non-profit organization run by students that was founded in 2007. The organization is made up of students from a variety of disciplines who work on projects to assist communities in need of sustainable engineering improvements. AWL’s mission is to “bring students, faculty, and community members together to improve the daily lives of developing communities through sustainable infrastructure.” I have been a proud member of this organization since 2015.
This project involved building ten water tap stands around the community in order to reduce the distance that community member have to walk each day to get water. The community’s pipe system starts at the spring, travels to a storage tank, and then through a system of pipes located around the community, with ten tap stands located along the system. The system also has a break pressure tank to control the pressure throughout the system.
For the project, I was able to work on the design, calculations, and construction. As an NMSU engineering graduate student, I learned some skills outside of the classroom. Thanks to my job
as a student assistant with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Water Science Center, and my membership in AWL, I had the opportunity to put my skills to use outside the classroom. I developed leadership and problem-solving skills and learned to trust in my ability to complete all the tasks facing me. In addition, my fieldwork with the USGS expanded my technical skills and my ability to work in the field. I’d like to acknowledge that being a woman in the field of engineering in the United States is easy compared to countries like Guatemala where, in some communities, a woman’s role is only to be a housewife. I was able to get the local community leader to listen to me because of my educational background and the leadership role that I took. This makes me feel proud of myself and the people of this organization. We spent a lot of time together on the project and learned from each other, from the community, and ultimately, we felt like family.
Through my work in Guatemala, I learned the real value of water. People had to walk miles to get water every day. The San Jose Lote 19 community does not have indoor plumbing for toilets and showers. They also do not have electricity; therefore, their workday goes from sunrise to sunset. Resources are scarce in this community, but the people pull together to help one another. Even though they do not have much to share, they share what they do have. I am happy to know that we helped them. We did not bring water to every house, but at least the miles they had to walk before were reduced.