UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders wins United Nations award
For much of the year, the Saint-Cyr River in northern Haiti is a docile trickle 1 foot deep. Yet when the late spring rains bear down on the Saint-Cyr, the river swells in some points to be more than 30 feet across and 10 feet deep. This volatility left a sinking feeling in the student members of the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders when they realized the extent of the flooding during a June 2009 trip to Haiti: The site for the hydroelectric power generator they planned to start building was in one of the areas where the water raised the most.
The students rallied and found a safer site to continue their work on a mini-hydroelectric power generator that will provide 3 to 5 kilowatt hours of electricity to a school, library and church in Bayonnais, Haiti. The generator will serve as a pilot project for a larger, 15 to 25 kilowatt generator the group may build for a community clinic currently in design.
This is the second time the Engineers Without Borders UW group has won a Mondialogo award. In 2005, the Rwanda project won a bronze award and $7,000.
A bridge project in Haiti was one of the earliest initiatives started by the group of University of Colorado-Boulder students who founded the first chapter of Engineers Without Borders in 2000. Graduate student Scott Hamel was with the project from the beginning, and when he came to UW-Madison in 2002 to pursue a PhD in civil and environmental engineering, he encouraged the new EWB-UW group to get involved.
“It’s the poorest country in the western hemisphere,” Hamel says. “I feel a sense of responsibility toward people who haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had, and the people I’ve met in Haiti are now my friends.”
In 2006, EWB-UW did get involved. Members continued work on the bridge project in collaboration with the EWB San Francisco professional chapter (which currently is designing the clinic), a non-governmental organization in Haiti, and a church in North Carolina. In addition to finishing and repairing the bridge after Hurricane Hannah, the EWB-UW group is repairing a 10-mile pipe that carries fresh water through Bayonnais.
The project attracted international attention when it was awarded $22,400 and a gold medal Mondialogo Engineering Award in November 2009. The award is part of a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and Daimler initiative to recognize intercultural engineering achievements related to development. Civil and environmental engineering student Kyle Ankenbauer and mechanical engineering student Eyleen Chou traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, to receive the award, which the UW-Madison group shares with Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“This is a huge honor, and it feels really good to have the project recognized at such a high level,” says Ankenbauer. “The award will help generate a lot of momentum behind this project.”