UNH students bring clean water to Dominican Republican school

By AbKessler
On November 20, 2012

 

Due to the outdoor pumping system at the Escuela Juan Pablo Duarte Elementary School in the Dominican Republic, young students haul sloshing buckets of water into the classroom multiple times throughout the day to be used for drinking, washing their hands and manually flushing the toilets. 

However, one civil and four environmental engineering students from UNH are working to implement a distribution and sanitation system that will require less manual labor by transporting clean water to faucets inside the building.

The idea was brought to life three years ago when a group of engineers conceptualized a clean water drinking system for a school in the Dominican Republic. Last year, five engineering students traveled to the Escuela Juan Pablo Duarte Elementary School and constructed a sanitation system using PVC piping and a filtration method that cleansed contaminated municipal water for schoolchildren. 

"Before the group went last year, children were drinking out of small juice box-sized containers and little pouches filled with water. Students were sharing the limited sources," Bohdi Piedmont-Fleischmann, a senior engineering student working on the project, said.  

This year, the third generation of UNH students are tirelessly working to further improve conditions in the Dominican Republic, designing a system that will pipe sanitized water through the building, enabling faucets and toilets to run without manual labor. 

"This is a real world problem and I have really enjoyed applying the skills I have learned in class to a project that will be implemented," Matthew Pearsall, a senior engineering student working on the project, said. 

Through the experience, Pearsall commented that he has developed a strong passion for volunteer work and hopes to pursue a career in improving water conditions in underdeveloped regions of the world after graduation. 

The five students have been working on the project since the end of summer, meeting every week, even though they will receive only four credits over the course of two semesters. 

"Most capstone projects do not get implemented," Jihyon Im, a senior engineering student working on the project, said. "But we like planning this project more than our other homework." 

Im commented that one of the most time-consuming aspects of the project has surprisingly not been the engineering design, but rather the fund raising and networking that the group has to do in order to lift the design from paper to implementation.   

"This project is interdisciplinary. We have had to use skills from all fields, and I think that is one aspect we didn't realize before we began the project," Im said. 

Since beginning the project, the students have raised over $8,000, but are hoping to accumulate a total of $15,000 in addition by spring break in order to cover traveling costs and materials needed to implement the distribution system. 

"The more money we have, the more we can buy for the school," Piedmont-Fleischmann said. "Ideally, we would like to buy new toilets for the building because the ones they have are useable but in poor condition." 

The money that the group is able to raise in the coming months will all be directly infused into making improvements to the school that the team members will install during their 10-day trip over spring break. 

"If we could fund this project ourselves, we would. We believe in it that much, but none of us have the money," Im said. 

So far, the New Hampshire Environmental Research Group, The Chatham-Beech Charitable Foundation of Springfield, Mass. and the CEPS Dean's Office have made substantial contributions, as have numerous individuals through their website, at http://www.gofundme.com/DR-Clean-Water-Project.

"Every dollar counts. Small donations of $10 and $20 dollars have made a huge impact," Im said. 

Harrison Roakes traveled to the Dominican Republic last spring as part of his senior project. His group implemented a water filtration system at the school, which has improved health conditions for the 1,200 elementary school students. 

"The students were not drinking very much because of the limited supply of water," Roakes said. "Since we have implemented the system, dehydration and waterborne diseases are less of a risk for the children." 

Roakes and the rest of his group have stayed in close contact with school officials at the elementary school since they returned from their spring break trip last spring.  

"The system we built is in good condition and they are using it and maintaining it well," Roakes said.

Because a strong relationship was formed between UNH students and elementary school officials, the school is ecstatic that a new group of engineering students has adopted the project and is designing a system that will further improve water conditions.


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