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The University of Alabama

UA Engineers Without Borders Repair Residents’ Plumbing; Restore Baseball Field

By Mary Wymer and Allison Bridges

plumbing011How many times have you used water today? Water is, of course, an integral aspect of life and is necessary to complete many daily tasks like bathing, brushing your teeth and washing your hands. Now, imagine being billed hundreds of dollars for water you never received because of faulty pipes or leaks in your home.

Some Hale County residents have faced this nightmare, which is why the UA Engineers Without Borders chapter has put its engineering expertise to use by restoring the residents’ plumbing.

Engineers Without Borders, also known as EWB, has partnered with HERO Housing Resource Center, an organization aimed at reducing substandard housing conditions in Hale County, to improve residential plumbing in the area.

It is estimated that 40 percent of water sent to customers from the Hale County Water Department is lost because of bad piping and a decrease in water pressure. The water department contacted HERO, who, in turn, asked Engineers Without Borders for its help. Engineers Without Borders is a student organization that partners with disadvantaged communities around the world to design and implement engineering projects that improve the quality of life in these communities.

bballprofJosh Hamilton, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering and the student project leader for EWB, said some of the less fortunate residents of Hale County are paying exorbitant amounts of money for water they do not receive because of problems in the piping. He explained that when some residents’ pipes leak, they cannot afford to pay someone to repair the pipe, causing the problem to worsen.

“We are working with HERO and the Hale County Water Department to make it so that these families, whether they are elderly, single parents or simply on a fixed income, can receive water that is affordable,” said Hamilton. “One of the residents we worked with was billed $800 for water, and they were unable to pay the bill. That is where we come in.”

Bonita Benner, project coordinator for HERO, said, “The EWB group has been wonderful to work with. They were able to complete a total of seven homes with plumbing needs, most of them very urgent needs.” “Not only are we benefiting the community,” said Hamilton, “but the students who participate in these projects are getting hands-on engineering experience, which is something you cannot learn in a classroom or from a textbook.”

plumbingEngineers Without Borders also has partnered with the Black Belt Action Commission to restore Curtis Smith Field, a run-down baseball field in Greensboro. EWB is restoring the baseball field in an effort to increase interest in the sport in the Black Belt community. Members of the Black Belt Action Commission sought EWB’s assistance after recognizing the need for improved recreational areas for their youth.

“Baseball used to be a big deal in the Black Belt,” said Dr. Philip Johnson, adviser for EWB. “Kids used to play the game, but it has died out, and there is no longer a little league team in Hale County, which is why we are sending students there to help.”

Recently, the Center for Community- Based partnerships presented Drs. Philip and Pauline Johnson with the Outstanding Faculty/Staff-Initiated Engagement Effort Award. Both are associate professors of civil, construction and environmental engineering. Also, the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility presented Dr. Pauline Johnson with an Innovative Service Learning Faculty Award, and the Community Service Center recognized EWB’s work by giving the organization its Caritas Award.

Engineers Without Borders will be traveling to Peru in May as part of UA’s interim class. Students in EWB will spend two weeks in Iquitos, Peru, working on community water and ecotourism projects in the area.