Creating Healthier Communities – A Trip with ASCE and Mission Hope

After arriving in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, it still takes a second flight to the east coast city of Bluefields and a six hour boat ride through the Pearl Lagoon and up the Rio Grande de Matagalpa to find the small village of Kansas City. Tucked away in the Nicaraguan rainforest, the remote river village was once home to an American-owned banana plantation. Although an abundance of needs plague this remote, marginalized community, their most fundamental need is safe drinking water.

Known as the “land of lakes and volcanoes”, Nicaragua has abundant sources of freshwater, yet little of it is safe to drink or readily accessible. The devastation of wars and natural disasters, combined with contamination from decades of mining and agricultural activities has left water sources polluted and hazardous to the locals’ health.



I first visited Kansas City in May of 2016 with a group from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Georgia Section. Our trip was organized through Mission Hope, an organization that equips villages with sustainable strategies for meeting their needs and empowers community members to become leaders. We spent a week building a 90-foot pedestrian footbridge in the community. The new bridge provides a safe crossing for villagers, especially during the rainy season. Towards the end of the trip we learned the village was experiencing water contamination issues. We did preliminary testing before we left the country, but we weren’t equipped with the supplies we needed to sufficiently test their water.

This March I returned to Kansas City with Mission Hope. Equipped with the tools and supplies we needed to adequately test the water, we sampled the area villages’ deep wells, hand-dug artisan wells and rain barrels. We coordinated with the University of Managua to analyze the test results, specifically looking at the levels of metals and bacteria found in the water. 







As expected, we discovered that the villages’ water is contaminated, most sources containing bacteria and some of the drilled wells containing levels of lead, copper, iron and manganese. Now that we are back in the U.S. we are working to develop treatment options that will be sustainable, allowing villagers to easily manage their water sources. Additionally, we’re looking to raise money to provide the area with the supply and treatment infrastructure needed.

Fortunately, additional programs and initiatives in the village are addressing some of the water quality issues. Mission Hope’s in-country partner, Peace & Hope Frontier Mission, has implemented the WASH program in the village, an initiative that develops cost-effective, sustainable solutions related to water, sanitation and hygiene. Mission Hope has also contracted with a doctor who has moved into the village. In addition to responding to illness and injury, she is working to map the wells and assess health conditions to improve overall community wellness. Additionally, the local village leaders are taking ownership of the clean-water initiative, working to increase education about safe sanitation and hygiene practices. This is as much an empowerment project as it is a clean-water project. 





As a water resources engineer, I spend a large amount of time thinking about water. I analyze large amounts of data to determine the best solution for communities. Kansas City challenged me to take my training to a remote, unfamiliar setting. I also gained invaluable experience working with little electricity and communicating in Spanish that I don’t often experience in the field or from behind a desk in Georgia.

I believe it’s important to give what you have to help others, and what I happen to have is a talent for math, science and engineering. I’m grateful that I can use my skills and knowledge to improve the quality of life for the people of Kansas City. I believe we can all agree that access to clean drinking water is the first step in building healthier communities. We’re still working with the people of Kansas City remotely and developing solutions to give them the safe-water they need to cook, clean, bathe and drink without worry.  Clean water can change lives and witnessing the impact of clean water in Nicaragua first hand has certainly changed mine.
 

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