Guest Author: Eric Tilden, NAHB Sustainability and Green Building
The opportunity to make a difference in the world, to help make it more healthy and sustainable, is what moved me to enter the field of green building.
When I practiced civil engineering and private consulting, it was the projects that sought a greener, healthier alternative over standard practice that I enjoyed the most. Over time, it has become the focus of my career.
It also led me to first join Engineers Without Borders (EWB) a few years ago after meeting colleagues who were involved in the organization designing and constructing a rainwater harvesting catchment system in Peru.
Instead of some “build-and-leave” humanitarian projects, EWB projects are partnerships, and EWB chapters make a minimum five-year commitment to work with their host communities. This helps ensure the long-term sustainability of a project, and prevents it from going into disrepair once the organization leaves.
Now at NAHB, I continue to volunteer as a project lead with the local Washington D.C. professional chapter (EWB-DC). Team members are not only engineers: They are professionals or graduate students from a wide array of backgrounds, including health, business and the public sector. They donate hours and even weeks to projects that provide critical infrastructure to communities that have requested aid.
EWB-DC has three active projects in Cameroon, Panama and El Salvador, each unique in their goals.
Water and Health. Nestled in the mountains of the Cameroon’s Northwest region, the rural village of Mbokop is home to roughly 2,200 people from three primary tribes speaking three main languages and following two major religions. This diverse community supports itself primarily through subsistence farming and herding livestock, but lacks basic services such as safe drinking water, proper sanitation and electricity.
In early 2015, the EWB-DC team broke ground on the installation of a spring-fed gravity water system for the residents of Mbokop. I am honored to serve as one of the project leads, along with my colleague Aileen Craig of CDM Smith. Construction is ongoing and the project team just returned from its fourth implementation trip in March, when they installed about 360 meters (1,181 feet) of piping.
Alternative Cookstove Technologies. Cantón Santa Clara, El Salvador, is a rural community of about 400 households. The majority of community members live in poverty and are largely subsistence farmers, growing corn, beans and some livestock. EWB-DC began working with this community in 2004 to install an improved drinking water supply system and completed it in 2012, with an initial distribution network reaching over 200 households.
The Santa Clara team is now developing and testing prototypes of alternative cookstove technologies designed to reduce wood use and indoor air emissions compared to traditional cooking methods.
In Santa Clara, most women cook over an open fire indoors. Without any chimney to direct smoke outside the house, the nuisance smoke can lead to high rates of respiratory problems as well as advanced deforestation as community members go further and further afield in search of their wood.
Education and Community Center. One of the most impoverished indigenous groups in Central America, the Ngo be-Bugle live in remote mountain communities throughout Western Panama. Historically marginalized, they lack governmental support for infrastructure and development projects. Moreover, economic, environmental and political pressures have eroded their indigenous way of life.
The EWB-DC team has partnered with the community of Rincon to construct a building to house a library, computer center and community center to increase access to information and provide the students with the educational tools that they need to succeed.
The community also plans to use the computers to document their indigenous language and culture, apply for government services and gain access to better health care information, including telemedicine.
If you’re interested in learning more about EWB, or bringing your professional expertise to a project team in your area, visit ewb-usa.org.
Eric Tilden, PE, joined NAHB earlier this year as a program manager in the Sustainability and Green Building group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-368-5242 x8375.