Profiles in Giving
Students from Tufts Engineers Without Borders spend spring break in El Salvador
When Frederic Berger, P.E., A69, comes to the Hill for the School of Engineering’s Board of Advisors meetings, he sets up dinners in Davis Square with a mix of engineering and non-engineering students. “I like to hear their stories and find out what is really happening on campus,” he says.
And in the world. Thanks to gifts from donors like Berger and his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Brannan, J69, students from Tufts Engineers Without Borders spent the past spring break in El Salvador working on water-related projects. In El Porvenir they renovated the lid of a spring box, which optimizes use of a natural spring by creating a point of collection and protecting the water from contamination.
Below is an excerpt of a blog post about that project, written by Grace Olsen, E15:
“The most important lesson we learned in Porvenir: You’ve really got to plan for electricity.
“We went down to the spring box to install the lid and shouted victory when we discovered that our estimated lid shape perfectly fit the front curve of the box. However, after about half an hour of drilling, we had almost completely worn down the drill battery and were only halfway through the first hole.
“After rummaging through a box of ‘things volunteer groups leave here,’ I headed back to the spring box, arms full of drills and batteries. We started drilling another hole. The drill died. We got another drill. It died. It was getting dark.
“Soon we saw half the community coming down the hill to see the lid. The men swarmed around, saw our dilemma, and picked up our tools.
“Felipe [one of the local men] said he thought it would be better if we took out the frame and welded the metal pieces together. He and the others began to measure the dimensions of the hole. They chatted about how they would build it and who would hang on to which pieces so no one could make off with them all until it was done. They wrote down measurements.
“While at first we were disappointed that our lid had not succeeded, we realized this work was never about us doing something for them. That kind of work is unsustainable. So while we weren’t proud of our failed lid, we know that this was in many ways better: we had inspired several community members to get involved and work together on making something for themselves. We had brought the need for a lid to their attention, and we had presented a design idea, tools, and solutions, and they built and completed the project.
“I am sunburnt, tired, and covered in dirt and sweat. I think I want to do this job my whole life.”