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Hannah's Story: Working toward Clean Water

Macintosh HD:Users:hannahvdv15:Pictures:iPhoto Library:Previews:2015:02:02:20150202-182512:OVzD29mWTZuzhL7vyNBwDg:IMG_5320.JPGI have been incredibly blessed to be able to study civil and environmental engineering at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI for the past three and a half years. As a capstone to our time at Calvin, all senior engineering students form groups of four and come up with a design project to work on for the year. My group decided to design an ultraviolet (UV) water disinfection unit powered by solar panels that could be used by a rural community in Nicaragua. This past January, my group and I had the opportunity to join World Renew (formally CRWM – Christian Reformed World Missions) and Accion Medica Cristiana (AMC), a Christian Nicaraguan organization focused on development, for ten days on a trip to visit a number of rural communities in northeastern Nicaragua along the Rio Coco river.

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AMC took us to three communities on the Rio Coco where they had established training centers to educate the communities on farming methods, sanitation and other aspects of development. We collected water samples from springs, wells, and rain barrels in each of these communities (8 total), spoke with leaders of the community, and saw some of the water purification and distribution systems that were already in place. One of the communities we visited even had a UV water disinfection system in place powered by solar panels very similar to the one we are designing. The last place we visited on our trip was the small city of Waspam, Nicaragua – one of the cities where AMC has established an office. This is where we ultimately decided to implement our project as they were already in the process of designing a new drinking water system. They were planning on using a disaster relief disinfection unit they had received a couple years back that uses ozone, chlorine, and aluminum sulfate to disinfect their well water. However, they thought that the UV disinfection unit our team is designing will be a better long-term solution to their need, and were willing to let us design our UV disinfection unit with their situation in mind. AMC Waspam is also hoping to be able to sell affordable drinking water to the community of Waspam and to people from rural communities close by that come to Waspam to buy water. Our group is hoping and planning on implementing our unit at the AMC office in Waspam when it is complete.

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I absolutely loved this trip. I decided to study engineering because I wanted to someday use the skills I learned through it in the developing world. But engineering is a difficult major and every year at Calvin I've wondered if engineering was really for me and considered switching majors. Now, as it's my last year at Calvin, I have had to start thinking about life after college – should I get a job? Go to grad school? If so, where? Michigan? Back home in Colorado? Some place completely different? Or should I just do something completely different? In the midst of all these questions, I found this trip to be really affirming. I loved being able to speak with community leaders about the issues their communities were facing (in Spanish!) and to be a part of a team that was working toward a solution to some of those needs. I really felt I was in the right place. This trip reminded me of why I studied engineering in the first place and renewed my hopes for my future. I want to thank First CRC so much for supporting me on this trip. I am incredibly blessed to have such a supportive community back home in Denver and I have enjoyed being able to share my experience with you all. Thank you very much!

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