Yale's Engineers Without Borders Help in Cameroon

'Tis the season for charity. With that in mind, we should spend some time this month in our pages recognizing the charitable deeds of our readers.

One that came across our transom last week is a report from the Yale Herald on a project undertaken earlier this year by the local chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at Yale University.

In August, a group of engineering students from the college traveled to the African nation of Cameroon to work on a clean water system for a town of about 1000 residents.

Last year, representatives from the town of Kikoo requested the assistance of Engineers Without Borders USA to build a drinking water aqueduct for their community. The Yale chapter, in New Haven, Conn., accepted the invitation. During their spring semester, the group studied the problem, analyzing the geography and the physical requirements. Meanwhile, they set about trying to raise the funds needed to travel to Kikoo and build the project, budgeted by them to cost US $40 000. According to the college newspaper, this was the biggest obstacle for the Yale team.

University students typically do not have a lot of money to spend on extracurricular activities. So the Yale EWB members, about 15 in all, embarked on a campaign of selling greeting cards and cookies during last year's holiday season. Although this netted them only a couple thousand dollars toward their goal, it attracted the attention of alumni, who began to offer contributions. Fellowship funding from the university soon followed.

With enough money to begin the project, a team of five undergrads and four mentors made the long trip to Kikoo in August and began working. They started by building a water storage tank from scratch. Without the luxury of calling in a cement truck to pour the base for the tank, the students and townspeople spent days digging with shovels and chipping gravel with picks. Then they lined the base by hand with rocks. After two and a half weeks of manual labor, the Yalies and their local counterparts had constructed most of the water tank and laid the foundations for a few standpipes.

In early November, the Yale team received word from Kikoo that the people of the town had finished the first part of the project and that potable water was flowing from several faucets in the community for the first time.

At present, the project is only able to serve about two thirds of the residents of Kikoo. The initial funding raised proved insufficient to purchase all the materials needed to finish the job as originally planned. So, for the EWB group at Yale, it's back to raising more money during the current holiday season -- and that means more cards and cookies. They plan to return to Kikoo in the upcoming year to finish what they started.

If you're in the New Haven area in the next couple of weeks and you see a student selling holiday cookies, you might want to buy a few. They just might help a town 5000 miles away enjoy a better quality of life.

Consider it the charitable thing to do.

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