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.
IMG_2421 (1)

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: