Projects for People: An International Exchange Focused on Drinking Water Quality in Rural Peru
Weathers TS., Tarazona Vasquez F., Bailey E., Duong V., Gonzales RA., LaPorte D., Rojas Cala B., Torres Atencia S., Vasquez Auqui J.
The integration of human-centered design with technical engineering in a classroom setting can be challenging but immensely rewarding if coupled with a community-focused experience. Undergraduate students participated in an international exchange to address drinking water quality in the community of Huamancaca, located in the Junin region of Peru. Technical research and experimentation often comes easily to students in undergraduate engineering programs, however, implementation within a community requires a social license to operate. The objectives of this study were to address the technical challenges of designing a sustainable and effective water filtration system while also ensuring community support and education, coupled with user ownership of the process. In tandem with filter media experimentation with biochar and activated carbon produced using locally available agricultural waste from potatoes and carrots, we visited the people of Huamancaca to understand their needs and concerns. This direct communication with the community was invaluable; we observed that many of the residents’ water quality problems could be solved with education. For example, proper sanitation techniques and appropriate addition of bleach or sufficient boiling time may make up for inconsistent water quality provided by the local distribution system. An education plan may also be developed for water treatment plant operators covering chlorine dosage for effective residual treatment within the distribution network in addition to filtration. Upon site visitation and sample collection, we realized that open communication with city officials, operators, business owners, and residents in both technical and social settings is essential for continued collaboration within this community. Solving a tangible problem or designing a product that can be effectively adopted is not a concept that is rigorously addressed in undergraduate education, however the setbacks, challenges, and triumphs experienced when interacting with a community can provide valuable lessons for career development.