Stoves, tanks and bulding blocks
INTERNATIONAL SERVICE CHANGES LIVES
Meghan McNulty had never been outside the United States when she came to Princeton but had ambitions to go far: She wanted to be an astronaut. One of her first experiences as a freshman radically changed her perspective, putting her on a path no less ambitious and also destined to take her far from her home town in Northern New Jersey.
She joined the Princeton chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and was soon swept into the organization’s mission of putting engineering to use in helping communities throughout the developing world.
“I’m still taking Rockets this semester—and it’s a great class—but global development is now my main interest,” said McNulty, class of ’10.
The summer between her sophomore and junior years, McNulty traveled with a small group of EWB students to Huamanzaña, Peru, to help the 140 villagers learn how to make small wood stoves from locally available materials. The stoves’ chimneys are expected to eliminate indoor air pollution from cooking fires and greatly reduce the incidence of respiratory illnesses. The efficient design allows people to burn far less wood.
“I don’t think I could have expected what it would be like,” she said. “It was incredible to see how more than half the world lives, on less the $2 a day.”
Back at Princeton, she finds that nearly every course is informed and enriched by her experience in Peru. In Robert Socolow’s “Energy for a Greenhouse-Constrained World,” for example, she immediately thought of Huamanzaña’s wood stoves when discussing restrictions on carbon pollution and the effect new policies might have on people.
Now co-president of EWB, McNulty said each of the organization’s projects seeks to help communities implement and sustain solutions on their own. Recently, the group has been involved in four projects, described on these pages.
Huamanzaña, La Libertad, Peru
Since forming a partnership with Huamanzaña in 2005, EWB-Princeton has installed a community bathroom facility as well as a solar electricity system and battery charging station. In 2008, seven EWB-Princeton students and a professional engineer installed 20 improved stoves, built using locally available materials. The stoves reduce indoor air pollution and conserve wood. The team also stressed the social aspect of the project, doing a “first fire” after every build to introduce the homeowner to the technology and encourage them to adopt the new cooking method. After an assessment trip this past January, the team designed an improved water distribution system with individual in-home taps, to be implemented this August.
Small groups of students traveled to Ghana twice in 2008 on assessment trips to determine the most effective way to contribute to a development project in Afienya. The groups were jointly led by Gregory van der Vink, a lecturer in geosciences, and a real estate company in Ghana. These trips resulted in a school library initiative at EP Basic, a school located in Ashaiman, a slum city located 30 minutes outside of Accra, the capital of Ghana. EP Basic has more than 400 elementary and middle school students, but no library facility. EWB-Princeton intends to construct an environmentally and economically sustainable library using local materials and outfitted with computers. For the library building itself, the team plans to use landcrete, an environmentally-friendly alternative to concrete. The EWB team also created plans for the library to pay for itself with income from community access and community computer lessons.
Kumudo, Arsi Negelle, Ethiopia
EWB-Princeton students spent two weeks in Kumudo in December 2008, installing foot-powered pumps that draw water from a river 90 feet below a community garden to two 1,000-liter storage tanks. The goal is to enable farmers to grow crops during the dry season, thereby establishing a sustainable food supply year-round. Normally, the farmers are only able to grow crops during the wet season using water from rainfall, but the region is increasingly drought-prone, threatening famine.
Alumni, students and other volunteers built an Arial Home—constructed of highly insulated steel panels that fit together like Legos—during Reunions 2008. Tom Pirelli ’69, founder of the Arial Home Initiative, said that the goal is not simply to build better homes for the poor but to create a viable approach toward alleviating the world’s housing crisis. The Princeton prototype will serve as an on-campus “lab” as student develop two systems that might be deployed in developing nations: a rainwater catchment and distribution system, and a method to concentrate solar energy to heat oil for cooking.