UTC Volunteers Begin Groundwork to Bring Clean Water to Communities in Guatemala

In early fall of 2019, UTC announced the expansion of its strategic partnership with Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) — a nonprofit that takes on engineering projects to help communities around the world meet basic human needs. Recently, a team of UTC volunteers and EWB-USA visited the two rural communities of Canton Oram and Valle Del Sol to assess safe drinking water and sanitation conditions. While approximately 30% of the world’s population lacks access to safely managed drinking water, UTC volunteers found that 100% of the citizens of the two Guatemalan communities are without safe and reliable access to potable water. Unclean water and sanitation are the leading cause of child mortality, especially for children younger than the age of five.

Volunteers tested the municipality water and the communal well water against World Health Organization standards and found both sources were severely contaminated. What’s more is that citizens may need to make up to six trips a day, up to one hour per trip, to the well during the driest months.

“Seeing the limited water resources and the low quality of water firsthand reinvigorated me to help these two communities. I am so grateful UTC gave me the opportunity and the platform to recruit others and apply my knowledge to make the world a better place,” said Megan Lewis-Taylor, a volunteer from Collins Aerospace, when reflecting back on her work.

Six months before the trip, the team met regularly and began planning. They reviewed and analyzed previous trips to Guatemala to establish patterns that could be used as reference. UTC employees divided into three groups. Each member was given specific roles and responsibilities based on his or her engineering or non-engineering disciplines. Team volunteers from Pratt & Whitney included Aaron Pepin, Jared Fertig, Miguel Estrada, Ana Rodriguez, Diana Hernandez and Ivan Cortes. Collins Aerospace volunteers were Megan Lewis Taylor, Chao Zheng, Brendan O’Brien, Joshua Moreno, Timothy Gale and Ricardo Iparraguirre.

Some of the UTC volunteers traveled to Guatemala and, once on the ground, worked with members of EWB’s partner Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) whose team members spoke fluent Spanish and Poqomchi', the local Mayan language. The teams then interviewed a total of 51 households to gather information regarding water resources, usage and contamination.

“While technical data collection and design may sometimes seem like the most intensive part of a project, the biggest challenge is ensuring that our solutions are socially and culturally appropriate. Interviews are one of the most enlightening, and often difficult part of Engineers Without Borders projects; you never know exactly what to expect when you are invited into another family’s home and begin to discuss what most plagues them day to day,” says Aaron Pepin of Pratt & Whitney who helped organize and lead the effort.

Because the existing well was found to have a heavy presence of E. Coli, those involved decided that a new water source would be needed. For this, a hydrogeologist visited the area and determined which locations could likely provide reliable, clean water. He analyzed the location, movement and quality of the underground water formations within the communities of Canton Oram and Valle Del Sol.

Diana Hernandez, a volunteer from Pratt & Whitney’s Puerto Rico site, reflected on her opportunity to help others in need. “Since Hurricane Maria and recent earthquakes, constant personal growth is the best survival mechanism for all islanders. Volunteering through UTC and EWB-USA gives me the opportunity to return all the kindness we have received after these natural disasters. Volunteering makes me happier and helps to put my own problems in perspective.”

Construction of the new well is set to begin in 2020. Once built, it is expected to greatly improve health, safety and industry for the citizens of Canton Oram and Valle Del Sol.

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