Biosystems Engineering students finding sustainable solutions in Honduras
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch damaged or destroyed more than 83,000 homes in this region;70 per cent of crops and transportation infrastructure were also destroyed. In 2009, flooding considerably deteriorated the road network. Today, more than 60 per cent of locals live in poverty and roughly half of rural residents live in what’s considered extreme poverty.
Back in Winnipeg, Dr. Kris Dick, P.Eng., a professor in Biosystems Engineering, along with a graduate and undergraduate student, founded the Growing Village, a U of M research project focused on alternative and sustainable buildings and associated construction technologies. Every year, Dick and his engineering students travel to the surrounding areas of Gracias Lempira, Honduras, where they work with locals to implement their designs. Students from the Faculty of Architecture and College of Nursing also take part.
This service-learning experience has students designing and building various infrastructure components for sustainable living in rural regions of the Central American country. Projects are chosen through collaboration with NGOs and local community leaders. To date, they have included housing, rainwater collection systems, water filtration systems, latrines and stoves. The student group—established at the university in 2012—is called Students for Sustainability. They do research, prototyping and design work on actual projects from Honduras during the fall semester, exploring sustainable, low-impact contextual designs that are culturally sensitive and use locally available materials and tools. The group then travels south in February to live and work with local Hondurans as they implement their designs.
“All of our students have said that this experience has had a profound impact on their lives,” says Dick. “From a personal perspective I am inspired by the students I have had the pleasure to work with. We have a lot of work to do in a short time. It is very rewarding when everyone pulls together with a positive attitude to make things happen. We truly work as a team.”
The goal of Students for Sustainability is to empower the communities in Honduras to make sustainable, environmentally friendly and healthy decisions and to provide students with a hands-on learning experience. “[This partnership] allows students a chance to apply their education to the real needs affecting the underserved Honduras population,” says Dick. “Working in a foreign environment gives students a global perspective while they learn first-hand the challenge of taking designs from paper to reality.”