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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • April 12, 2024
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • April 12, 2024

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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • April 12, 2024
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • April 12, 2024

Engineers Without Borders works to aid impoverished communities

Members+of+Pitts+Engineers+Without+Borders+building+latrines+in+Bolivia+this+summer.
Courtesy of Seth Blain
Members of Pitt’s Engineers Without Borders building latrines in Bolivia this summer.

When Claire Gendron traveled to Bolivia for the first time, some of the local members asked her if she liked it. Despite sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag and watching a tarantula crawl past her one night, Gendron said she woke up every morning happy to be there. 

“I’ve been pooping in a hole in the ground and brushing my teeth on a mound of dirt, [but when] I wake up in the morning, I forget where I am,” Gendron, a senior environmental engineering major, said. “It was so lovely to be in that place.”

Gendron has been a member of Pitt’s Engineers Without Borders chapter since her first year at Pitt in 2020. Now, she is the project lead for the “Bolivia team” —  a group of Pitt students who have traveled to Carijana, Bolivia three times to implement a latrine system for the local community. The Bolivia project is one of several engineering ventures within the club, with others including a sanitation project in Ecuador and local volunteer work. 

The Bolivia team has designed the latrine to ensure that the community’s drinking water is separate from their waste water, which Gendron said will hopefully help to prevent the spreading of water-borne illnesses in the community. 

“You hear about poverty and people living differently than you. But it’s another thing to see it, and then it’s another thing to actually live it,” Gendron said. 

Gendron said her responsibilities as project lead include leading the meetings, choosing and training the project’s team, submitting paperwork for organization approval, planning the trips, as well as supervising the project’s progress. 

“We try to have Zoom calls or phone calls with [the community] once a month to get updates on the status of the project and any other issues they’re running into, whether it’s politically or environmentally,” Gendron said. 

Gendron has traveled to Bolivia twice during her Pitt career, and she said she has been able to build on her connections with members of the community.

“I know a lot of the children in the community remembered me because they ran up to me and said my name,” Gendron said.

Nicki Wealand, a sophomore environmental engineering major and Bolivia team member, said she joined Engineers Without Borders because it provides her with the opportunity to engage with global issues that she never had the chance to experience in high school. Wealand was the only then-first-year to travel to Bolivia this summer. 

“Culturally, the way they live, the way they interact with other members of the community is so different than the US and it was really eye-opening,” Wealand said. 

Wealand said she particularly enjoyed being able to connect with the other women in the community. Wealand, Gendron, their other female team member, and the female translator had the opportunity to speak with the women and hear their perspectives. 

“They were so open,” Wealand said. “They were asking us questions about how we live life in the US as women and it was really cool to make that connection with them.”

Wealand said the Bolivia project is in the “final implementation phase.” Over the summer, the team finished fifteen latrines, meeting their goal of fifty functioning latrines in the community. The team plans to travel to Bolivia again next summer, either to add more latrines for the growing community or begin their data collection on the efficacy of the latrine system itself.

“If I [am picked] to go on the travel team, I would love to go again,” Wealand said.

Pitt’s Engineers Without Borders has several other teams. Some club members work with the Pittsburgh professional Engineers Without Borders chapter to do local volunteering and community outreach. Other members apply for grants to fund the international projects.

According to Gendron, there is also a team working with the professional Engineers Without Borders organization to develop a water distribution system in Ecuador. Rae Templeton, a junior environmental engineering major, is the lead for the project. Her team traveled to Ecuador in winter of 2022 to assess the needs of the community they were designing for. 

“Their water distribution system is very unreliable and does not serve all of the people who need water,” Templeton said. 

Templeton said the team has been doing “design work” since returning from their trip. They expect the project to take several years to complete and to travel to Ecuador again this summer to begin the implementation phase, according to Templeton. 

“We’re coming up with about three designs, and then we pick one. Then we go through the process with our parent organization and make sure the community members are okay with it,” Templeton said. “Then once we have that, we can start working towards implementation.” 

Both Templeton and Gendron said they are working to recruit non-engineering majors to the Engineers Without Borders club. 

“We’re looking for public health students to [lead] workshops with students or adults in the community,” Gendron said. “I’ve also been going to Spanish classes to recruit Spanish majors or minors, or anyone that speaks Spanish to help translate our material.”

Gendron said the club’s Bolivia trip has recently been approved as an internship for Pitt Spanish students. She also said they are reaching out to business majors for assistance in marketing campaigns and fundraising. 

“Engineers aren’t necessarily experts on these other topics,” Gendron said, “And it would be interesting for other students to put this on their resume.”

Gendron said she hopes to continue her work with international engineering projects after she graduates and has been exploring other organizations that do similar types of work.

“The community members really appreciate what we do, and we could really feel that from them,” she said. “Even with the language barrier, we could tell how much they loved us and, and appreciated this project. So that’s what really made an impact on me, and what makes me want to continue doing this work.”

About the Contributor
Abby Lipold, Assistant News Editor
Abby Lipold is the Assistant News Editor for the News Desk. She is an English Nonfiction Writing major and is pursuing a BPhil in International and Area Studies. She has been writing for The Pitt News since January 2022. You can contact Abby at [email protected].