About the Project: 2020-2021 Chosavic School Expansion
“If you build it, they will come.” Just a 15-minute drive from the municipal center of Joyabaj, the community of Chosavic was once nothing more than a sparse area with four households. Much changed when those four households decided to build a soccer (fútbol) field. Word quickly spread, and people from surrounding areas began arriving, first for soccer games and then to set down roots.
The first school was then founded in 1967 and was a one-room structure made from adobe, wood, and a clay tile roof (common before the 1976 earthquake). By 2002 the school had expanded to three masonry classrooms in which 125 students were taught in morning and afternoon shifts. By 2006, there were 10 classrooms and junior high grades were added. The current elementary school enrollment is 307 students. The soccer field not only serves for community recreation, it is the site for PE classes literally every hour of every school day.
Chosavic now boasts of 350 homes and 2450 inhabitants, most of which are sustained by agriculture, handicrafts, or small businesses. A select few have formal employment in Joyabaj. Despite the impressive size of the current school, they are still short on space. Three classes currently meet in improvised spaces lacking walls or even roofs. It is estimated that at least fifty school-aged children are unable to attend classes due to overcrowding. With this predicament, the school leadership and Community Development Committee approached EWB-USA. Bernabé Morales, EWB-USA Guatemala’s Joyabaj-based staff member, indicated that he would need to meet with two representatives from the community…the community sent 20.
Our chapter’s story intersected with this community when a student delegation from MSOE’s March 2020 travel team had the privilege of meeting with the Community Development Committee, the school’s director, and the parents’ association - literally days before the coronavirus lockdown. Space adjacent to existing buildings had been selected for the additional classrooms and bathrooms and the community had already performed site excavation. We conducted basic measurements, a topographic study, and soil tests. A hand-washing station has been added to the design due to a heightened awareness of how important hygiene is in disease prevention.
Upon returning to the U.S., we continued to press forward in consultation with the school’s leadership. Part of the community’s decision-making process involved determining the ideal number of classrooms and their corresponding sizes. They opted to have five new classrooms of varying sizes in accordance with needs for different grade levels. We are continuing the work to finalize the design this fall. By winter quarter, we will be in a good position to begin construction planning. Construction is expected to begin the spring of 2021. Depending on COVID-19 restrictions and what is deemed prudent both for our student members and the host community, we hope to travel to Guatemala in summer 2021 to join in on the construction project.
About Us: The MSOE Student Chapter of EWB-USA
We are a non-profit humanitarian engineering organization that works with communities in Guatemala to help them achieve their development goals. The EWB-USA student chapter of MSOE has worked alongside Guatemalan communities since 2008 in accomplishing their own development goals via specific infrastructure projects such as schools, bridges, and water distribution systems. EWB-USA has a two-fold mission to build "…a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges (https://www.ewb-usa.org/mission-and-history/).
We equip our student members with skills and understanding that allows them to work with others that have different life experiences. First and foremost, we introduce our student members to a healthy framework for engagement with the majority world. Healthy engagement is one in which local institutions are strengthened in the entire project process, and student members are aware that mutual learning is taking place. In sync with MSOE’s focus on Servant Leadership, recognizing the skills and knowledge within the communities themselves and exhibiting cultural humility are indispensable.
Building upon that philosophical foundation for engagement, we equip students to apply their technical and professional skills – as a team in a multicultural context – from the very beginning with pre-project site assessments, client feedback on alternative analyses, final designs, construction planning, and finally the construction itself.
We have a steady project cycle that is largely student-run and performed. The project cycle for which our student members are responsible is comprehensive and robust. The chapter is heavily student-led by upperclassmen student officers in addition to project managers. MSOE professors - alongside engineers, construction managers, and architects from the Wisconsin Professional Partners (WPP) chapter of EWB-USA - provide additional student mentorship. Students perform all the technical aspects of the project as mentioned above. A team of students, faculty, and professional mentors travel to Guatemala each year to (1) work alongside the community to construct the project, (2) assess the next year’s project, and (3) visit the previous year’s project for follow-up.
About How We Operate: the process is as crucial as the product.
As the faculty advisor of the MSOE chapter of EWB-USA, I have been impressed with EWB-USA’s approach to development projects. I’d like to highlight a selection of their ten guiding principles which inform our approach and activities.
Community Driven: All projects are identified and initiated by the local Community Development Committee. The Municipality of Joyabaj provides initial screening, as the mayor’s planning department approves and prioritizes the projects. Next, the project is vetted by EWB-USA’s in-country Guatemalan staff of engineers and construction professionals, which includes site visits and meetings with local leadership. When the Guatemala office has satisfactorily concluded that the request is a legitimate project need and that the community is committed to working to bring it to fruition, our EWB-USA chapter is then brought on board. This process gives me assurance that our projects are meeting legitimate needs while contributing to locally sustainable development.
Commitment from the community and local government institutions: What is often referred to as local “buy-in” is crucial to the sustainability of any development project. All our projects involve a partnership of four parties (MSOE, the Mayor of Joyabaj, the local Community Development Committee, and EWB-USA). The Municipality of Joyabaj contributes 25% of total project costs; the recipient community contributes 5% of material costs in addition to volunteer labor over the entire construction phase. This includes site preparation before the volunteer team arrives, the participation of approximately 30 men per day while the team is in country, and the completion of remaining tasks upon the team’s departure. A tremendous amount of sweat equity goes into every project by the recipient community. EWB-USA is now also contributing to project costs, although at the time of writing the percentage is not yet known for this year. MSOE covers the balance of the costs, which has historically totaled approximately 35%.
Trustworthy Partners: We have worked within the Joyabaj community for over a decade. During that time, we have developed strong relationships with local government, community development leaders, material suppliers, and engineering and construction professionals. This ten-year period has enabled us to develop strong bonds of trust. For example, I have complete confidence that when the mayor’s office commits to supply all the gravel, sand, and cement bags for a project prior to our arrival, they will be on site when we arrive. The municipality also provides heavy machinery when excavation is needed. For water projects, the municipality first constructs the water source (usually a well) and local water committees are created to collect fees for maintenance and repairs. Only once this system is established will an EWB-USA team become involved the design and construction of the distribution system.
Quality Control: While these projects are designed by students, there is a well-established project process to ensure quality and safety. All our projects are reviewed by the faculty advisors that hold professional engineering licenses before delivering them to our professional mentors for review and approval. The projects undergo a third level of review by independent volunteer professional engineers provided by EWB-USA. Finally, our projects are also reviewed by professional Guatemalan engineering staff at the Guatemalan office of EWB-USA. The multiple layers of review assure me that our designs are both technically sound and culturally appropriate.
About Our Experiences
The experience of working in this Student Chapter of EWB is truly something special. The following is some quotes from some of our members regarding their own experiences.
“… we had just arrived to the bridge site in Chiaj and the entire community had set up lunch, music, and of course the worksite with workers. It was a really awesome thing to see it was brimming with life and excitement. And it was awesome to know that what we had spent months preparing for them was being fully implemented. Even if there were three guys playing the marimba for literally 7 hours straight. It was just so clear that they were excited to work with us and get the project done. It made all of the rest of the work so much more exciting and meaningful to know that the people who it was for were so happy.”
-Weston Lema, Chapter Vice President
“When I was working at the Los Cerritos jobsite, a few little kids who lived nearby ended up making their way over to our jobsite. Somehow, I was prepared to hang out with some kids as I had a huge book of stickers for in case I got to hang out with some kids. We spent a half hour going through the Spanish and English words for the different animals on the stickers. I knew these kids could have been some of the people who used our design. This moment made me feel like I was doing something important and made me proud to be an engineer.”
-Alexis Countryman, Chosavic School Project Plumbing Design Lead
“I feel like I have gained many leadership skills as a part of this organization. Being part of the travelling team has forced me to show leadership on the jobsite to help get the locals involved with the project. In addition, the trip helped me with my communication skills as there was a language barrier between us and the Guatemalans. Knowing little Spanish, I could still carry on a conversation with the locals and have a good time with them. I can carry these skills with me throughout my professional career as an engineer on the construction site.”
-Sean Kennedy, Chapter Secretary
“Involvement with EWB has greatly affected my professional pursuits. It’s no surprise to say that EWB is a great resumé builder, and a great topic of discussion with prospective employers. My most recent internship, I worked with people who had previously worked in EWB, which was great to see. Not only that, but I’ve gained great technical knowledge as well. I’ve done most of my work on bridge projects, and although I’m AE and civil, I’ve learned a great deal of information from our past members and mentors that I’ve been able to translate to my field of work.”
-George Evers, Chapter President
Thank you for your support of this project!
If you would prefer to give by check, please make it payable to Milwaukee School of Engineering with “Engineers Without Borders MSOE Chapter - Chosavic School Project” in the memo and mail to:
Milwaukee School of Engineering
Office of University Advancement
Attn: Gift Processing
1025 N Broadway
Milwaukee, WI 53202