Humanitarian Design Corps group looks to put final touches on pipeline installed a year ago
For residents of one Costa Rican village, the main source of water had to travel from a well to a storage tank through a leaky pipeline. As a result, the community endured frequent water shortages, sometimes for weeks on end. Just over 2 1/2 years ago, a group of students in Case Western Reserve University’s Humanitarian Design Corps (HDC) organization set out to change that.
And this week, those students are spending spring break putting the finishing touches on a new pipeline that will improve the water-system infrastructure for the village of about 250 people.
HDC is an interdisciplinary group that works to provide
underserved communities around the world with sustainable solutions. The Costa
Rican project is one of three international initiatives; the others are in the
Dominican Republic and Malawi.
HDC students heard about the community in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province through a connection of Kurt Rhoads, associate professor of civil engineering, and a nonprofit working in the region. Immediately, they knew they could do something to help.
“The needs of the community and the skills and the passions of the students really aligned well,” said Neil Chavan, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and environmental studies with a minor in Spanish. Chavan served as the project lead until this semester, when he handed off the responsibility in anticipation of his upcoming graduation.
Since officially launching the project in July 2016, the
team has made two previous visits to Costa Rica, with each trip serving a
In January 2017, the students evaluated the issues with the
water system, led activities around sanitation and hygiene, and spent time
getting to know the residents of the village.
During that visit, members of the community welcomed
students into their homes without ever having met them before. Though many of
the students didn’t speak Spanish, some—including Chavan—knew enough to begin
forming more personal relationships.
“It became apparent how much the people needed this, how
willing they were to work with us, and how open they were to us working with
them,” Chavan said.
After designing a new underground pipeline to bring water to
the community, the students set out to install it in March 2018. They also
taught residents to how install pipes and fix issues that may arise.
The students spent five days installing the first kilometer.
Community members finished the second kilometer of pipeline after the students
left with the knowledge that the team had passed on to them.
After installing the new pipeline, the work on the system
did not stop there.
Back in Cleveland, the team brainstormed ideas for improving
the water system with three sub-groups dedicated to different aspects of the
project: erosion control, pipe repair and replacement, and system mapping and
This week, the team will repair sections of the pipe
infrastructure, install water meters to track water usage, conduct tests to
evaluate water quality, and assess the system for any new damage. The team’s
goal is to have the system fully functional by the end of their trip.
HDC plans to continue its work in the village even after the
pipeline is finished and structurally sound. Though next steps aren’t fully
determined yet, the group is considering exploring issues with the village’s
well, treating water quality issues, and possibly teaching residents
Chavan attributes the past success of the project to strong
collaborations between the student team, faculty and staff at CWRU, engineers
in the Cleveland area, and (most of all) the village residents. Despite the
language barrier, the students and community members have bonded during each
trip. Now they routinely communicate via WhatsApp and update each other about
each other’s lives.
“You do become close with the
people that you’re helping out, and it’s not just an ordinary school project or
volunteering project,” Chavan said. “This is a long-term, multi-year
relationship that we’re fostering. I think that’s really special.”