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A well for Mphero

Video by Lovely Lacey, Meredith Simon-Pearson and Megan Safranek

UD’s Engineers Without Borders finishes implementation phase in Malawi project

“We are hopefully changing their lives, giving them back a lot of time and money they were losing in the process for getting water before, and giving them ownership of their own water source, as well.”

That thought was shared by Meredith Simon-Pearson, a junior civil engineering major and one of four University of Delaware students who traveled to the village of Mphero in Malawi this summer to complete the final phase of a project begun by UD’s Engineers Without Borders chapter in August 2015.

Together with Megan Safranek, Emma Richmond-Boudewyns, Rachel Schaefer, travel mentor Curt Davis and hydrogeologists Charles Rich and Bill Cocke, the team worked with the local firm Rodu Drilling and Civil Engineering and community organization Villages in Partnership to install Mphero’s first successful borehole well with a depth of more than 37 meters.

Before installing the well, members of EWB-UD spent the 2015-16 academic year deciding what type of technology would provide the best solution for Mphero’s needs. “We did a decision matrix to decide whether we should do rainwater catchment, biosand filtration, or a borehole well,” said Simon-Pearson. “We decided that the best thing we could do for the community was to drill a borehole well because it would provide the most water for the community for the longest amount of time.”

On site, the team began by drilling two test wells. The test well with the most promising geology and pump test results was chosen for completion.

“As you drill, the drill bit is going down into the ground and this is called air rotary. To get all of the debris that you are grinding up in the ground out, they blow a lot of air out. There were rocks shooting out and then all of a sudden those rocks were moist and wet. You could feel it was more like mud,” said Megan Safranek, a senior environmental engineering major with a concentration in water resources and water quality. “We had such a productive well that all of a sudden mud and water just started flying out of the hole. It was a 10-foot high spray of water.”

The community members, she added, celebrated the possibility of a more secure water source near their homes with singing, dancing, and speeches by community members. “One girl, who must have been about 20, spoke and said she had never seen water in her own community,” said Safranek. “It was amazing to see her say how grateful she was that finally Mphero has their own water.”

Before completing the well and installing an AfriDev hand pump, the students took groundwater samples to ensure that the groundwater was safe for consumption.

According to Simon-Pearson, residents of the village were previously forced to walk distances of up to one and a half kilometers each day to access potable water, paying high fees, and waiting last in line to receive water safe enough to drink.

“They have access to a river that goes dry in the dry season, and the water is not potable but used for washing. They don’t cook, clean, or drink it,” she said. “The village has had several attempts at drilling borehole wells for potable water in their community, and all of them have failed, are dry, and are not successful producing sources of water.”

A hallmark of the Engineers Without Borders program, chapters are required to work closely with communities in problem identification, implementation and sustainability of their projects.

Before the students departed from Malawi, 12 members of the Mphero Water Committee and Village Implementation Committee were provided an in-depth manual in both English and Chichewa, the local language, and were given hands-on operations and maintenance training by an expert at Villages in Partnership. Residents will pay a small monthly fee and have recently received a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe Self Help grant fund written with the help of EWB-UD students to help further access to clean water within the community.

During the summer of 2017, another EWB-UD team will return to complete any needed repairs and to monitor and evaluate the success of the project. The chapter will also use this opportunity to begin their next project in a nearby village of the Sakata region.

While Mphero residents have received their well, the students who participated in its implementation have also received invaluable rewards. “It definitely showed me a different side of engineering,” said Safranek, “not the perfect drawings that you put together and the presentation you present to someone. On the ground, everything changes and the craziest thing can happen.”

It is this skill of flexibility that Safranek says she will use time and again during her career. “I am much more prepared to go into the professional world knowing that not everything goes as planned and am much more confident in my ability to think on my feet and problem solve.”

UD’s Engineers Without Borders chapter also maintains an active project in the Philippines. For more details on the Malawi implementation or other projects, visit the EWB-UD website

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