Water for Nicaragua: At the Intersection of Global Service and Applied Academics

Water for Nicaragua: At the Intersection of Global Service and Applied Academics
Debra Meyers

Students in Mr. Calore's 3-D Design and Prototype Engineering class are helping the residents of a small village in Nicaragua develop a community-based solution to a common problem in the region: access to safe, clean drinking water.

"I was looking for a big project that would connect student learning to something beyond the classroom," says Calore. "My research led me to Global STEM Squads, a Squads Abroad program that allows students to apply STEM skills to developing clean water and access projects in rural, underserved communities."

The problem is both global and significant: The latest information published by the World Health Organization and UNICEF shows that more than 785 million people lack access to basic water services, and more than 884 million people across the globe do not have safe water to drink. Among them: the 538 residents of Ciudadela, Nicaragua.

Ciudadela is a tiny, rural village in north-central Nicaragua. The community's 158 homes are clustered around 13 streets. One primary school and two churches contribute to Ciudadela's average daily water consumption of 68,000 liters. That water currently comes from a single pipe in a neighboring community. During a Zoom call in January, Ciudadela residents told Taft students that many of them work 12-hour days in the region's coffee fields. At the end of the work day, when the single pipe opens for water collection, they line up to collect water for their families. Most days, someone from each of the 158 homes is in line at the same time; there isn't always enough water to go around. Ciudadela residents also collect rainwater during the six-month rainy season. They store the non-potable rainwater in buckets and barrels, and use it to wash clothes and dishes, and sometimes for showers.

"Having the opportunity to Zoom with the villagers was probably the most meaningful part of the project," notes Margo Kahler '22. "It allowed us to really understand their everyday life and the importance that this project will have in their community."

Margo is one of eight students Calore's class who worked first to collect demographic, geographic, and economic information about Ciudadela and its residents, as well as details about the current water system in the village and the challenges it presents. Studying that data and its implications for the community led them to propose the construction of a 24-cubic meter water storage tank that would allow for uninterrupted access to drinking water while reducing the risk of water-borne diseases. Working in groups and with a range of mapping and design programs and engineering software, students designed the tank and mapped its installation and functional system. 

"It was really nice working with the village one-on-one—I feel like we made a really good connection with the people of Ciudadela," Patrick Gallagher '24 says. "At the same time, we gained good understanding and knowledge about different softwares that are really important in 3-D prototyping and design."

The tank will rely first on gravity to move water to a pump house; the pump house will rely on electricity to move clean, fresh water to the tank, which in turn supplies water to the village. Calore's students not only designed the tank and delivery system, but developed an execution budget that accounts for every projected expense, down to the last roll of Teflon tape. Projected cost: just under $4,000 US dollars. Taft students are now working to raise funds to support the project. Proceeds from t-shirts sold at "Spring Sunset," a community event sponsored by Taft's Community Service Board, will help fund the construction of the water delivery system. 

"The construction of the tank will be organized by Global STEM Squads using local workers and possibly some volunteers," explains Calore. "In the longer term, one of my goals would be to engage in service trips with Squads Abroad to assist with the construction of the projects we help design."

Taft students presented their final proposal to Squads Abroad and Ciudadela leaders during a Zoom session in March. The impact on the village and on Taft students is almost immeasurable. 

"I have never felt more impactful on and involved in the problems of a foreign community," says Emile Zogbi '23. "Talking directly to those who will benefit from our work was a truly a special experience, and one that I am grateful for." 

3-D Design and Prototype Engineering is designed to provide students with the opportunity to become more proficient in working with computer-aided design (CAD) programs and the use of different modeling machines to produce prototypes. CAD software can be used to create two-dimensional (2-D) drawings or three-dimensional (3-D) models.The course takes an interdisciplinary approach that draws upon and develops skills from math, science, technology, and art. Students use technology such as computer-aided design software Fusion 360 to create designs that are produced on a 3-D printer, CNC machine, and laser engraver.  Students need to have successfully completed Introduction to Engineering before taking the course.