Karlsruhe students, Colombian children

Sustainable engineers: students from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) campaign for improved living conditions in developing countries.

Hansgrohe SE is committed

to the aid project “Aguavision Colombia”

The school in San Bernardo del Viento finally has clean, running water! Up until recently the 1,600 schoolchildren, located in North Colombia, were still suffering as a result of insufficient water supply and poor water quality. This great improvement to health and quality of life was made possible by students from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). As Engineers Without Borders (EWB), they play a key role in implementing sustainable projects in developing countries. Hansgrohe recognises the need to support these projects. Which is why the Green Company provided financial assistance to the prospective industrial, chemical and civil engineers from nearby Baden for the water project “Aguavision Colombia”. Hansgrohe's online editorial team spoke to project manager Lukas Biergans (22), a mechanical engineering student in his sixth semester.

Lukas Biergans, how long have you been involved in the project, and what happened before you began digging in Colombia?
Lukas Biergans: After the tsunami catastrophe in 2004, EWB was established as a student group at the University of Karlsruhe, to support those affected in Sri Lanka and to help provide basic services for the reconstruction work. I've been involved in the Aguavision project for about a year and a half now, right from the start. Two of my fellow students come from Colombia and found out about the water problem at the school. During the spring of 2014 they took their first trip there, spoke to the school principal, took water samples and returned to Karlsruhe with their report. From there, we began looking for supporters. More than 30 KIT students set up Aguavision, and eleven of us flew to Colombia in late September to set the plans in motion.

What were the conditions like at the school?
L.B.: The sanitary conditions were appalling and the school's supply of industrial water was in poor condition. The municipal utilities only supply the school with water a few days a week, which is not enough. It needs to be stored, and in any case is not suitable for drinking. The cistern was full of sludge and rubbish, the toilets basically unusable, but the schoolchildren had to go somewhere. When we saw the sanitary facilities, we decided to repair the broken toilets and taps too.

“We were on site at six o'clock every morning – armed with sunscreen and mosquito repellent.”

It took just 26 days of construction for you to implement the project on the ground. You renovated the cistern and the sanitary facilities, and provided a new industrial water infrastructure. You installed an additional water tank with a volume of 10,000 litres and routed tap water to the school kitchen. Sounds like hard work ...
L.B.: Yes, apart from anything else the climate meant that working conditions were far from ideal: 35 degrees and high humidity. We arrived at our four construction sites at six o'clock every morning, armed with sunscreen and mosquito repellent. In addition to the physical labour, we spent our time documenting the results and blogging. However, each morning I got up at five o'clock feeling highly motivated and couldn't wait to get to work. In that regard, I even surprised myself somewhat. One day we treated ourselves with a trip to the seaside, the school is about ten kilometres from the coast.

What was your accommodation like?
L.B.: Eleven of us lived in a 60 square metre apartment which belonged to a biology teacher. We got to know each other really well (laughs). We were all pretty familiar with each other from our studies and the intensive preparation phase, but of course things didn't always go smoothly. For example, every evening we fought each other for the tiny shower because we were all sweaty and dirty.

How were you received? No doubt the children were inquisitive ...
L.B.: Everyone was incredibly nice to us. In the village too, which is home to just a few thousand inhabitants, everyone waved at us, hailed and greeted us courteously. We were well and truly besieged by the schoolchildren. They watched us, peering over our shoulders, and got to know our names. Of course, what we were doing was a lot more exciting than lessons. They were particularly fascinated by our girls with their long, blonde hair. Sometimes we had more than 30 children hanging around and we had to shoo them away because they were preventing us from doing our work. However, there were times when we were fully occupied, sifting sand for example.

Lukas Biergans, KIT student

Lukas Biergans (22) is an Engineer Without Borders specialising in mechanical engineering.

Impressions from the construction sites in San Bernardo del Viento

Images

© all images: EWB KIT

  • KIT student with Colombian schoolgirls
  • Karlsruhe students at Colombian construction site
  • Engineers Without Borders in Colombia
  • Colombian schoolgirls
  • Engineers Without Borders at construction site
  • KIT students at Colombian construction site
  • Engineers Without Borders at Colombian construction site
  • Engineers Without Borders at Colombian construction site
  • KIT student and Colombian schoolgirl
  • New 10,000 litre tank at Colombian school

Hansgrohe supported Aguavision in particular because you were concerned about instilling in the schoolchildren a lasting awareness of the water issue. How did you achieve this?
L.B.: Those of us whose Spanish was good enough talked to the younger children about water cycles, rainfall, groundwater, and especially about water conservation. The motto of the class was: “Water is precious.” We also explained our project to the older schoolchildren. We noticed that this had a rapid effect: in the sanitary facilities, the schoolchildren urged one other to quickly turn off the water after use. Despite the fact that we have left, Aguavision is continuing: water samples will be taken on site and the results of bacterial tests sent to us via email.

Was it easy to fit the project in with your studies – and what are you taking away from your journey to Colombia?
At university, there's never any time for us to sit around doing nothing: before flying out, we underwent an arduous assessment phase. Time-wise, something like this is always a challenge to fit in but we managed it easily. Our professors supported us, they were extremely helpful and amenable. Of course, this kind of project offers lots of professional benefits too. As a mechanical engineer, I was able to learn about a lot of things outside my field of expertise well in advance. The trip to Colombia was an unbelievably rewarding experience for me personally. Incidentally, we are currently preparing the second phase. We are now focusing on the treatment of drinking water at the school. That involves a whole lot of responsibility …

Get involved in the work of Engineers Without Borders.
The goal of EWB is to support people in developing countries and to significantly improve their living conditions through sustainable engineering projects. Find out about other projects, ways to donate and how to become a supporting member at EWB-KIT e.V..

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