In the town of Sabana Grande, a small agricultural based community in Nicaragua, the most common method for sanitation is pit latrines. Basically, it’s an outhouse over a hole dug in the ground. When full, the hole is simply covered and a new hole is dug. When the pits are dug in the ground and not lined by concrete or bricks, they risk groundwater contamination into the community wells used by residents.
Staci Shoemaker, a Junior Environmental Engineering major at Saint Francis University, along with two students from the University of Dayton, were a part of the Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service-Learning (ETHOS) volunteer team that worked together and alongside others to improve the living conditions for the Sabana Grande residents during a ten-week service project. Staci and the others’ goal was to build, install and document the process for six dry eco-latrines to be used in public and residential spaces.
The dry composting eco-latrines are built above ground with two chambers and are lined with concrete to keep sewage from entering the groundwater. After a few months, the first chamber can be emptied and used as compost eliminating the need to dig and build new latrines when the pits are full.
Staci and the volunteers, as well as local community members, all worked together to construct the new latrines. Staci learned local methods of construction and was able to analyze the engineering aspects of the project. Staci recalls that not everything always went as planned. “One of the walls of the latrine slid off during construction. It was a valuable lesson that not everything will go the right way the first time.” Once the latrines were complete, four detailed construction manuals with diagrams were written, two in Spanish and two in English. The manuals will serve the team and the community for future construction projects.
Working abroad on this project expanded Staci’s interest in humanitarian engineering. After graduation, Staci would like to continue on to graduate school for a Master’s Degree in Ecological Engineering. Staci says, “This trip made me realize that in order to change the world, it’s okay to just start with something small, like this project. I have always thought of ‘changing the world’ to be something that would take huge steps, but now I can see that little steps can still change someone’s world.”
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