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 local 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. In addition to donations from other sources (e.g., Rotary Club of Milwaukee), the MSOE chapter of EWB-USA covers the balance of the costs.
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 in 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 the 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.