Engineers Without Borders strives for a world with better water access

Brittany Duong, biomedical engineering senior and president of the ASU chapter of Engineers Without Borders, poses with Kenyan children on the group's annual trip to Kenya. (Photo Courtesy of Brittany Duong)

Brittany Duong, biomedical engineering senior and president of the ASU chapter of Engineers Without Borders, poses with Kenyan children on the group’s annual trip to Kenya. (Photo Courtesy of Brittany Duong)

Traveling to a developing nation can make someone appreciate everything he or she has, especially enforced traffic laws, said Brittany Duong, a biomedical engineering senior who is also the president of ASU’s Engineers Without Borders club.

“(In Kenya), they drive like crazy!” she said.

The club is a chapter of the national EWB nonprofit organization, which focuses on using engineering to create international partnerships with developing communities to help them meet their basic needs.

The ASU chapter has traveled to Bondo, Kenya, for the last three years and was recently selected by the University’s new crowdfunding program, a partnership between the the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and ASU’s Foundation for A New American University, to raise money for its fourth consecutive trip to the area.

In summer 2014, the club plans to implement a hydraulics lab at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology in Kenya.

“Basically, it’s a lab that allows you to explore and understand how water moves through channels, through pipes, through materials,” Duong said. “Our goal with this project is to access education. So we’re hoping that by doing this project, we’ll teach local people how to solve their problems, rather than us continuing to go there.”

Duong said the community in Bondo is extremely generous to the students despite its poverty and that it expresses deep gratitude.

“They’re very thankful. I mean, this is the first access they’ve had to water in 50 to 60 years, so it completely changes their lifestyles,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people cry and say we were gifts from God. I think it shows how important it is to them, the work we’re doing.”

During the chapter’s previous trips to Bondo, it built a rainwater-catching system and fixed dams to prevent erosion. It assisted a community in Tsuraku, Ecuador, for several years before traveling to Kenya.

Duong, the club president, said she continues to work hard for the club’s endeavors because it brings a great personal satisfaction.

“Because we’re members of the human race, we have an obligation to take care of each other, and EWB is a great way to do that, because it’s a great way to create connections and grow and develop,” she said.

Daniela Panfil, a civil engineering and sustainability junior who is the project lead of this year’s trip, said she gains gratification from community service as well as valuable field experience.

“I feel really good being able to apply my passion for math and science to do good for other communities,” she said. “Throughout my college career, I’ve been looking for something that combines these passions, and I’ve found this in Engineers Without Borders.”

Panfil said she hopes to meet the chapter’s fundraising goal through the crowdfunding effort and its annual Kenya Dig It? 5K run in April.

Jack Moody, a professional mentor for the chapter and a water resources practice leader at the Cardno design firm, initially got involved with the ASU EWB chapter after hearing the club praised by a colleague at work.

“(The other mentor) described this group of students as, ‘their collective IQs could light up a town,’” he explained.

Moody said he’s extremely passionate about his involvement with the chapter because he’s able to help the student engineers of ASU as well as the impoverished in Bondo simultaneously.

“It’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve had in my life,” he said.

Moody said his professional advice is one of the factors that allows the club to be successful, but most of the chapter’s work should be credited to the altruism and determination of the ASU student engineers.

“The students who are in EWB are some of the best and the brightest young people in the country,” Moody said. “What they’re doing is extremely commendable, dedicating a huge part of their life while they’re going to school to help people they don’t even know. And that is very hopeful for the future of the youth today.”

Reach the reporter at elmahone@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @mahoneysthename