ESW Brings Water, Jobs to Rural Guatemala

By Angela Marshall – 05/04/2016


ESW Team in the water lab in San Mateo Ixtatán
ESW Team in the water lab in San Mateo Ixtatán. Image provided by Ellie Dunkle

Clean drinking water is vital and hard to obtain in some parts of the world. This is what brought the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Engineers for Sustainable World (ESW) back to Guatemala January 13 through 20.

Faculty advisor Vinka Oyanedel-Craver, associate professor of civil engineering and lead investigator for the Sustainable & Environmental Technologies Laboratory, returned with three students to San Mateo Ixtatán to meet with local collaborator Ixtatán Foundation, a grass-roots organization. “We have done several activities with them as community outreach,” Oyanedel-Craver said. “I personally have been working with the community of San Mateo Ixtatán since 2006.” Over the past six years in particular, ESW has built water treatment facilities and, most recently, begun building a water testing lab. ESW’s efforts are funded by a U.S.-based company, the ENVIRON Foundation, part of the Ramboll-Environ Corporation.

Currently, the ESW team is able to visit to San Mateo Ixtatán only once or twice a year, which doesn’t provide enough information or data points to determine if their efforts are improving the water there. The installation of a water quality laboratory by the team and its ultimate certification by the government of Guatemala will provide continuous and ongoing data that will help help gauge water quality when the ESW team is not there. Currently, the nearest water testing facility is several hours away. Once San Mateo Ixtatán’s lab is up and running, this will also prove beneficial for testing water quality among other surrounding communities, Oyanedel-Craver noted, adding that currently water purification is something that occurs at each tap, not at the community level.

A partnership with Universidad DaVinci, the largest engineering university in the region, will allow water quality monitoring and education opportunities for local students. “It could be their field facility,” said Oyanedel-Craver.

San Mateo
The Village of San Mateo Ixtatán. Image provided by Ellie Dunkle

Future trips to San Mateo Ixtatán will allow them to install the last large piece of equipment and get governmental certification for the site.

This has been a big year for the URI chapter of ESW. At the annual network conference, ESWCon2016, URI won an Outstanding Chapter award for the strides made in increasing membership and tackling global problems — and solutions. They have also been working on several local and international projects, including developing an indoor hydroponics farm for a Rhode Island food bank to help them cover winter green-foods deficits.