Clemson Students Build a Better Future for People of Haiti
By Nichole Livengood
December 31, 2011
(via Better Future for Haiti)
In April of 2009, Clemson University Civil Engineering graduate student Jeff Plumblee stepped out of the Port au Prince airport in Haiti into sweltering heat and a sea of chaos. Cars were honking and driving in all directions and people were fighting to help with his luggage for the opportunity to earn a few cents. He held on to his bags and made his way to a waiting Partners in Health SUV and rode 4.5 hours on a bumpy, unpaved road to Cange. He was astounded by the poverty along the way. It’s not something you can prepare yourself for, he says.
The Episcopal Diocese of the Upper State of South Carolina, which has had a strong mission presence in Haiti since the early 1980’s, contacted Clemson’s Civil Engineering Department about repairing a water pump system in Cange. The Diocese had funded the original water system in 1984. The outdated and overused system pumped water 1,000 feet uphill to Cange and when it failed, which was often, the people had to walk up a steep flight of stairs carrying 5-gallon containers to provide their families with water.
Plumblee was asked to go assess the situation. The trip changed his life and inspired a groundbreaking program at Clemson University that will save the lives of thousands.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly half the population is chronically undernourished and of every thousand children born in Haiti, 81 die before reaching the age of five. HIV, tuberculosis and cholera are the major causes of death among adults, according to Partners in Health. “People were dying every day of waterborne illness in Haiti. When I realized we could virtually eliminate these illnesses in the area with a water treatment system, I decided I had to get involved,” says Plumblee.
In the Fall of 2009, he formed Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries, a student-led service learning organization with the goal of improving the standard of living in developing countries. The organization has received the Clemson’s Commission on Higher Education Service Learning Award and received the Commendation of Excellence for Service Learning Award in May from the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.
In Fall of 2010, David Vaughn, an engineer and project manager at Fluor in Greenville, joined the group as a volunteer industry advisor. He says his first trip to Haiti in 1978 changed his life. “Americans take everything for granted. We have a tax basis that pays for public services, we have an unemployment rate many times better than 40%, we have a postal system, we have clean drinking water, we have a national electrical power grid and we have roads. One of the biggest challenges that we as Americans have is the development of third world solutions while viewing them through our first world eyes.”
“The model that CEDC is using is very different from similar programs at other universities because they are partnering with several CBOs (Community Based Organizations) and NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) to deliver much needed support to the Central Plateau of Haiti. This is a new concept – a school sponsored program coupled with a service learning organization with an engineering focus. However, even though the program started with Civil Engineering, eight departments at Clemson are now involved and we are targeting as many as eighteen departments next semester. We are finding that many of the other departments are working on similar solutions and partnering seems to be building synergies beyond our expectations,” says Vaughn.
Students in CEDC work as project members during their first semester and move to project manager roles as they develop their leadership and teamwork skills. Some of these project managers will become directors and will be managing 20 or so students by the time they graduate. In the classroom, Plumblee and Vaughn teach students about design, logistics, planning and operations, and oversee project teams. On the ground in Haiti, two full-time interns oversee construction, and help train local construction workers on better construction techniques. The project will produce the first chlorinated municipal water system in Haiti. The new system filters and sterilizes the water using cartridge filtration, UV treatment and chlorination. It is designed with N+1 redundancy, which means when one pump goes down for maintenance the other system can continue to pump water to Cange. Vaughn says Phase 1 of the water system construction will hopefully be complete by February or March 2012. Plumblee says the importance of their work became even more apparent after the January 2011 earthquake that devastated Port au Prince. Cange’s population surged as people made their way to Partners in Health medical facility located in the village. A cholera outbreak also hit the already shattered country in October 2010. The waterborne illness killed over 6,000 people.
CEDC is beginning work with Adopt-A-Village to improve public health in the Central Plateau of Haiti. The two major components of the program will be delivering clean water and improving sanitation. Students are going to villages in the region surrounding Cange to assess the villages’ needs and are offering design support to address the problems. In time, CEDC interns living in Cange will assist with the implementation of the solutions into the villages. CEDC plans to establish a program management office in Cange by June 2012.
Plumblee says the bulk of their current funding comes from several places. The University’s Creative Inquiry program covers student travel costs and construction is funded by the Episcopal Diocese Bread and Water Campaign. CEDC needs additional help to continue to grow. The program is looking for industry experts who have project management experience and they need surveying, engineering and testing equipment, as well as sponsorships for interns and students. Vaughn says the program has been a success because of Plumblee. “The students look up to him as a leader and mentor. They want to change the world.”
Follow the CEDC blog: http://clemsonengineersfor-developingcountries.wordpress.com