Texas A&M chapter of Engineers Without Borders completes computer center in Costa Rica

Free time for a college student can be scarce. When there is a little extra time on one's hands, finding something fun to do becomes the goal and work and school are put on the back burner.For the Texas A&M University chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) free time means a chance to go to work with shovels, hammers and a various array of tools to help improve the quality of life for those in need.The national chapter of EWB-USA focuses on the mission of partnering with developing communities worldwide in an effort to improve their quality of life through the implementation of environmentally sustainable, equitable and economical engineering projects.The selfless service of the Aggie chapter on two projects - one in Acuña, Mexico and one in San Juan, Costa Rica - is helping the A&M chapter live up to the standards set forth by the national chapter. A&M's EWB chapter recently put the finishing touches on its San Juan project, the highlight of which included the construction of a computer center for a rural school."Sometimes I think, 'Why am I doing this?'" said Jessica Rivas, an Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution major. "But then I think about the main reason we are doing this and it is serving the people and the communities.  I think the people, in the end, is what motivates me and that is the goal."SAN JUAN, COSTA RICAThe project that was undertaken by the A&M chapter of EWB in Costa Rica began in January of 2009 and included the design and construction of a computer center for a school in a rural village. It also included a wastewater management system for two bathrooms within the center.Members of the Costa Rica team pose with community members on the foundation of the computer center they are building."The government gave them some computers, but along with that came some stipulations on how they could use them and what type of facilities they could use," said Grady Hillhouse who is working toward a Masters of Engineering in Water Resource and served as the project lead. "They don't have the proper infrastructure so there were computers just sitting around because they can't use them."We equipped the school to be able to use those computers with a computer lab. There were some huge challenges and there was a lot of design work to do."Among the challenges the group faced in Costa Rica were communicating with the locals, problems with materials acquisition and the weather in the small village that is high in the Monteverde Cloud Rainforest. Over a 14-day period, the area received 18 inches of rain. The EWB team was there for the last eight days."As far as design challenges, there were some huge ones," Hillhouse said. "The topography of the site is really outrageous, there is a lot of slope and not a lot of area. Also, the soil is bad. Pretty much anything that can make it a pain is the case."The Costa Rica group recently returned to implement the plan."It was a big trip," Hillhouse said. "There was a lot to get done, a lot to build."ACUÑA, MEXICORivas serves as the team manager for foundation on the Acuña project, which is undertaking the mission of building a storage facility for the Centro Comunitario Manantial community help center in Colonia Morelos, an impoverished community on the outskirts of the city."This community, in particular, is not being helped by the government," Rivas said of the decision to focus on Colonia Morelos. "We felt if we helped them it would be filling a greater need since no one is really reaching out to help them."The center serves 200 people per weekend, providing them with food, clothing and medical care. It also provides activities for the local children, the majority of whom are not in school."They get food donations and clothing donations and they don't have the capacity to store that because they use that place to take care of the people," Rivas said. "We are building them a storage facility to store all the donations they get so they can have a bigger area for people to come."The final size of the facility will be 12×16, and the group has also been challenged with designing a building that is transportable. The community center is not a permanent location and might move to another location, hence the need for a storage facility that could move with it."We knew that going into the project," Rivas said. "We had to figure out what types of material to use so it will be easy for them to take it down and then put it back up when they move."The group will be using a steel frame covered first with treated plywood and then with tin. The plywood serves as reinforcement for better security and sturdiness and the tin covers the plywood and protects from weather damage.The current timeline has the group returning to Acuña in January 2011 to implement the plan and build the storage facility.For more information on the A&M chapter of EWB, visit: http://ewb.tamu.eduFor more information on Engineers Without Borders, visit: http://www.ewb-usa.org