Exciting things are in store! With 2015 under way, here are five things coming up:

  • New co-workers. The IEMB (Evangelic Methodist Church of Bolivia) elected new national leaders, and I am grateful for these partners to work more effectively and efficiently to selflessly partner with the poor to meet basic needs. Also, Engineers In Action will be hiring two new engineers, one of whom will start next week.
  • A project in Carani. Last year, EWB-Idaho (Engineers Without Borders) was in Bolivia for another project when they unexpectedly had a couple extra days. The same week, a miscommunication led the community Carani to believe I was bringing a team of engineers to work on their water system. In this case, two wrongs made a right, and EWB-Idaho visited Carani. Now, they have a long-term partnership to improve current infrastructure and install water distribution pipes. One graduate student from Idaho is even writing her thesis about the project, giving us a great head start on finding the best solution.

Though I told the community we were bringing our own food and sleeping bags, they still prepared 3 meals a day and walked up to an hour in the dark to bring wool blankets for us, their guests.

  • The Konani project is coming to a successful close. We have done an in-depth technical analysis and conceptual design of how to improve water provision. We installed large tubes to cross a major highway, and made other small modifications. I have been working since 2012 to consolidate two separate water administrations, physically combining the systems and improving operation and maintenance. That finally has happened! Now, a unified system is operated by a trained water committee, with technical and financial support from municipal (county) engineers. The committee, with help from the municipality, already made improvements to the infrastructure, and will finish the work of building a new tank and installing more pipes as recommended by our team of US engineers. This is what we aim for! Outsiders offered expertise that wasn’t readily available locally, and local actors are making the final decisions and carrying out the majority of the work. Now I get to become a background supporter, as the community runs, maintains, and improves their own water supply.

A community leader signing the agreement in which the church donates the water system to the community, so that the trained water committee can operate one unified system.

  • New projects. Because of the project in Konani, the Municipality has asked Engineers In Action to partner with them in additional communities. The municipality of Sica Sica is part of a national pilot project to provide 100% coverage of water and sanitation by 2025, achieved by investing in experienced personnel to oversee the work and focusing on capacity building, community participation, and a service-oriented approach. This means that one-time projects are only part of the bigger picture to make sure water is delivered as a public service every day to everyone. EIA is thrilled to play a part, and hopes to contribute a vision of detailed up-front analysis in order to find the best long-term solutions. In November and December I visited many potential partner communities, and we found a few where we will start new projects this year. They are highly motivated, organized, willing to work together with visiting engineers and have great need for water and other basic necessities. I will also visit more potential partner communities in the following months.
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A girl collecting a sip of water in a used plastic bag, in Murmuntani- a small community where we are evaluating the feasibility of a potable water project. Photo credit: Adam Kirchner

  • Research partnerships. I have helped coordinate a project between a Bolivian and US university to make improved wind-powered water pumps from recycled materials, for small-scale irrigation. The prototype has been built, is being tested in the lab, and soon will be ready to place in a community. The goal is to improve the design enough that it can be replicated across Bolivia, sold at a low cost and distributed to rural farmers by a small start-up. Based on the initial success, a new larger partnership is underway regarding cyclical human/environmental systems. I’m coordinating the visit of two US professors in February for this project.

A Mechanical Engineering professor, the Director of Engineers In Action, and me with an early prototype of the wind pump.

I love my work, if you haven’t gathered that. Perhaps unfortunately, I love it so much that I want to learn to do it better and have applied for graduate studies. I still don’t have a date for leaving Bolivia, but it’s possible it will be in 2015. We are starting to recruit for my position- if someone comes well before I leave, all the better. If you know a great candidate, please email me at lauren.butler [at] engineersinaction [dot] org. Meanwhile, I have plenty to keep me busy!

P.S. Remember my previous post about unique Bolivian fruits? This picture of my snack the other day might trump all the rest:



13000 Words’ Worth of Pictures

It has been quite some time since my last post, so I have a lot to share.  From a road trip across salt deserts with my family, visiting a community that walks marathons to get water, and celebrating the Soltice with 2,000 Aymarans… it would take a lot of words to explain, so it’s probably better said through pictures.


A professional surveyer from the U.S. came all the way to Bolivia to do a week-long training for the Engineers In Action staff.


I visited a community on the border with Peru, called Carani, that requested help from the church in improving their water infrastructure. This is a contaminated spring that currently serves as a drinking water source for these 30 families.

I ran some tests on the spring water, and found high levels of contamination. In the 1 mL sample above, each red dot represents the presence of bacteria that is harmful to humans.


A science writer from the Rotary International newsletter, visiting my project Konani to do a story on the history of bringing water to this community.


Following a request from the engineers desiging the project in Konani, I built simple Electrical Depth Sounder from local materials, to facilitate the testing of deep water wells.


When the Missouri-based Engineers Without Borders team came to work on their project in the south of Bolivia, I travelled with them to help with translation. The team and the community are like extended family to each other. Everyone had a great time working together to put in the water lines; even the kids in the community pitched in!


My whole family got to visit, and we got to visit the Salt Flats (above), Lake Titicaca, and see a tradional parade in La Paz. It was so sweet to have all of us together, and for them to see where I live!


My brother had such a good time that he decided to stay four more weeks in Bolivia! We were on a walk and saw a family working in their field. We asked what they were doing, and they invited us to join! These are sun-dried and freeze-dried potates called Chuños, and we stepped on them to remove the skins.


The Aymaran New Year is the winter solstice (June 21, summer solstice in the N hemisphere). To say goodbye to the old, dying sun of the past year, my brother, Mariel (my roommate and co-worker), and I had a lovely evening overlooking the lake.


Along with thousands of Aymarans, we woke up before dawn to welcome the sun of the new year. We all hiked up to the sacred Horca del Inca, or Incan Gallows, which is actually a pre-Incan astronomical observatory and ritual site.


As the first rays crest the horizon, we welcome the new sun’s energy by greeting it with the “personal horizons” created by our hands.


On the horizontal rock beam towards the left of the picture, there is a dot of light. The suns’ rays shine through a natural key-hole in one rock and onto this beam, only on the morning of the winter solstice. The belief is that if the sun is unblocked by clouds at this moment, there will be a good harvest that year. Guess I can look forward to more great quinoa, chuños, and choclo (a large-grain corn) in the market this year!


There had been rumors that CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on the Bolivian president’s airplane, so many countries wouldn’t let the plane land. In response, 4th of July celebrations were canceled in Bolivia. But I still got to share the holiday with the young adult group at my church, with fireworks, sparklers, and red white and blue deserts.

We Fast So They Can Drink

Every year, supporters of Engineers In Action fast for 36 hours and raise money for EIA’s projects. I’ll be fasting this Friday night through Sunday morning, and I invite any to fast along with me, support this work financially, and/or pray for me and for EIA’s work during that time. 

This week I heard that in Konani, the location of my first project, there are a few people who have to limit their water use to only 10 liters/day. In some initial calculations, the goal of our project will be to supply 70 liters/day per person. “How much do I use?” I wondered. A single toilet flush can be 10 L. In the U.S., the average indoor daily use is 350 L/person (source: USGS), and I may be close to that even while living in Bolivia.

So I was inspired, in addition to fasting from food, to LIMIT my water use to 70 L/day, to raise money that will PROVIDE the people in Konani with 70 L/day. I expect this to be eye-opening in many ways, and will share about the experience afterwards.

Thanks for your support. Please consider (1) sponsoring me in this fast, at $5, $10, or even $1 per hour, (2) fasting along with me in solidarity with people living with extreme hunger and with limited access to basic resources like water, and (3) marking in your calendar to pray for me and with me during these days. For spiritual reasons why I’m fasting and some specific prayer points, please visit the prayer  page.