Engineering Students Spent Spring Break in Honduras

Group Returns in August to Help With School Construction

By: Jenae Williams

Because an earthquake damaged school buildings in Nueva Suyapa, WWU's chapter of Engineers Without Borders is now beginning the process of working with the community to build a safe school.

Instead of taking 10 days of downtime at home, four members of Walla Walla University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-WWU) spent their spring break in Nueva Suyapa, a small town in the mountains of northwestern Honduras.

For the last two years, WWU engineers have been working in Luis Garcia designing drainage systems and building classrooms. Now they are moving on to do similar work in the neighboring town of Nueva Suyapa.

The current school in that area suffered severe damage after a recent earthquake. But despite the building’s condition and safety hazards, children continue to meet there. In the event of another earthquake, the building’s roof is likely to collapse. To help out, WWU engineers will work with the local people to design and build a new five-classroom school building. Upon its completion, the project will ensure that 800 children can attend school once again in a safe environment.

During the trip, WWU students Mary Castrejon, Jonathan Schreven, Jenny Milchenko, and engineering professor Brian Roth set goals to meet the community and determine their needs, as well as to collect the technical data necessary to begin construction.

With each of its projects, EWB-WWU, in keeping with the mission of Engineers Without Borders USA, maintains a partnership with the community it serves. For this reason, the team had multiple conversations, over the course of their trip, with the local municipality to negotiate each side’s expectations. The success of these meetings ended with the signing of a convenio, an official contract outlining each party's agreed-upon contributions and commitment to the project.

On one night of the trip, Castrejon, senior graphic design and English major, and Schreven, senior engineering major, stayed up late, translating the project plan before its presentation to community members the next day. Their work turned out to be more important than they anticipated. “To our great surprise, when we walked in to the municipality on Tuesday to finalize the document, they opened the file we had created and proceeded to use it as the official contract,” Schreven says. “But it was a great feeling to know that we had contributed to the project.”

Roth said, “We accomplished what we needed to accomplish. What made it fun was the unexpected. I’d say it was a success, but it turned out to be a lot of fun too.” The “unexpected” was discovering that the community, municipality, and the EWB-WWU team all held the same expectations for the project. Being housed and fed by a wonderful host family was unexpected too. These memories contributed to making this trip “a really great experience.”

EWB-WWU will take eight members on another trip to Nueva Suyapa in late August to inspect the foundation of the school and to support the construction of the walls and roof. Until then, the chapter’s next steps include finishing designs and raising money for the August trip.

On Sunday, April 29, at 6 p.m., the chapter will host its annual Hope for Honduras gala fundraiser at the Whitman College Reid Campus Center Ballroom. EWB-WWU cordially invites friends of WWU and community members to attend. Tickets may be purchased for $50 until April 24. A special student discount is also available.

To learn more about EWB-WWU, their spring break trip, or make gala reservations, click on the link below.


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