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Sustainable living project in Honduras

April 23, 2013 — 

This past February a group of 12 U of M engineering and architecture students had a very busy two weeks in Honduras. Dr. Kris Dick, P.Eng from Biosystems Engineering and Director of the Alternative Village, Biosystems graduate student Jami Carter and undergraduate student Luis Midence started a sustainable living project known as El Pueblo Creciente – The Growing Village. The purpose of the project is twofold – to establish a long-term relationship with the community of Consonlaca working on sustainable living projects, and to provide students with an opportunity to live and work in another culture.

This year’s project focused on a new adobe structure, a water collection system, a new latrine and a stove. During the fall term the students met after classes to work on designs and build prototypes. The weekly meetings also included other aspects of working in another part of the world such as language lessons, health and security, working with limited resources and general discussions about development issues.

In Honduras the team worked hard from dawn until dark. Construction of an adobe home that had been started by Jami Carter and Luis Midence earlier in January was completed. Block laying, the roof system and earth plaster were done by the team to finish the house. A rainwater collection system connected to a concrete storage tank, sand filter and pump supplies water to a new concrete sink designed and built by the team. The sink is connected to greywater storage tank for watering plants. A ventilated pit latrine was constructed using a concrete slab and galvanized sheeting covered with local material known as canna brava keeps the structure cool. A small drainage field was also constructed as a part of the latrine system.

All of the students were billeted with local families in the town of Gracias Lempira. Without exception, everyone said this was a key component of the experience and helped provide some appreciation for everyday life in the community. The host families were most welcoming and made all feel at home.

A debriefing was held at the end of each day to review progress, plan for the next workday and provide an opportunity for anyone who wanted to share their thoughts about the overall project. At the end of the project a longer session was conducted to review the entire project and to provide an opportunity for everyone to share his or her experience. It was a lively, wide-ranging discussion that included suggestions for the project next year, reflections on the work and process, experience they had at their billets and the overall sense of accomplishment they felt. The students appreciated the fact that they were actively engaged in the design and implementation of the various components. All students who participated in the project also receive credit through the Co-Curricular Record program through the University of Manitoba.

A project like this does not happen by itself, it requires a commitment of human, financial and logistical resources. In country the EPC project is fortunate to partner World Vision Honduras for logistical support. Through the efforts of the 2013 EPC team funds were raised from private individuals, engineering companies, industry associations, and student support funds in the Faculties of Engineering and Agriculture. The students paid for their own airfare as their contribution.

A site has been selected for EPC 2014 and planning is already underway. Sustainable living is not just buildings and water systems but needs an interdisciplinary team. The longer-term vision is to include students from other faculties. Next year’s project will see the inclusion of nursing and education students into our team.

Perhaps this year’s experience can be summed up in a comment expressed by a number of students; “I learned I can actually do this!”

For more information, please contact Kris J. Dick, Ph.D., P.Eng., Associate Professor, Director – The Alternative Village at kjdick [at] ad [dot] umanitoba [dot] ca.

Tax receipted financial contributions can be made online. Cheques can be made payable to the University of Manitoba with The Alternative Village Development fund in the memo line.


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