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Aggies Without Limits overcome challenges, finish project ahead of schedule

A community of 350 people in Guatemala now have secured access to water with the help of New Mexico State University Aggies Without Limits (AWL) who funded, designed and built a potable water system. Consisting of a reservoir tank, pipelines and tap stands, the system distributes water to 55 families in the Mayan village of San Jose Lote 19, in the northwestern part of the country.

Students in a jungle working on PVC pipe.
Aggies Without Limits club members Autumn Pearson (sitting front), Molly Williams (standing, blue), Anne Lee Yingling (1st person in back) and Alessa Ibañez (back back) glue a 20-foot section of PVC pipe from the spring to the storage tank. (Courtesy photo)
Students working on a water storage tank.
Aggies Without Limits club members Jonathan Ortiz (blue front), Karen Medina (pink), Christine Shank (blue and hat), Lucas Rivera (blue inside), Joshua Barrera (red shirt) and Ulysses Pendregon (green) apply plaster to the 4000-gallon ferrocement water storage tank. (Courtesy photo)
Students work on the wooden support system for the storage tank roof.
Aggies Without Limits club members Luis Estevez (standing), Emily Radell (glasses), Molly Williams (green) and Hannah Whittaker (hand on face) work on the wooden support system for the storage tank roof. (Courtesy photo)

Previously, families walked up to 8 kilometers round trip in mountainous terrain to access water. Some springs available only one hour a day, every other day.

Planning for the project began in September of last year and the first trips to Guatemala began in January. In May, 24 students, two NMSU advisers and two community members traveled to Guatemala for the three-week long project.

Although the group had working hands and funds for the project, building a water distribution system from the ground up was not easy. Aside from coming down with illnesses like the flu and working long hours in hot, humid weather, AWL’s biggest challenge was time.

“Five days before the end we had a long meeting and figured it was going to take us two weeks to finish,” said Kenny Stevens, AWL faculty co-adviser and professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Surveying Engineering at NMSU.

Engineering complications like placing PVC pipelines throughout steep slopes without access to plumbing elbows was just one of the challenges the group faced. AWL members hiked to the project sites every day. Because there was not access to water nearby, the group also had to walk several kilometers for their own water.

“Depending on the season, there are a couple of places where [villagers] were getting water,” Stevens said. “There are intermittent springs that spring up in the lower parts of town, there’s another spring 2 kilometers away and another 5 kilometers away.”

The team was taken to a spring near the high mountains of San Jose. After surveying and taking elevation measurements they determined they could use that spring for the water system.

“The project was to build a small spring box so that the water flows into a pipe and down a hill into a tank that was built in the upper part of town. Another pipeline transports the water into town,” Stevens explained.

During the last week of the project, community support doubled and the project was finished with one day to spare and under budget.

“What we figured was going to take two weeks took four days. It was just everybody digging down deep and saying, ‘I know I had three people for this job, but I’ll do it myself.’ Everybody spread out and we figured out how to cut some corners,” Stevens said.

Yomara Rios-Laurenzana, civil engineering technology student and AWL member, said although the project took a lot of hard work, it was a humbling experience she will never forget.

“The spring was pretty far, the hikes were terrible, it’s very humid, it’s hot, but the project turned out great,” Rios-Laurenzana said. “It’s one of Aggies Without Limits biggest projects--it’s about 2 miles long, it goes around the whole community, it’s awesome. When you see the conditions in which these people are living, it really humbles you.”

Originally launched at NMSU by then student Dorothy Lanphere, the organization was mostly made up of engineering students. The group now welcomes students from all academic disciplines.

“The group nominally started out as an engineering organization but as early as the first project we had students from health, education and agriculture who wanted to participate,” Stevens said.

Lucas Rivera, civil engineering student and a project manager for AWL said he enjoys working with students from outside disciplines to address problems and find solutions.

“Sometimes when the engineers have their little mindset, non-engineers in our group would come and use their common sense and find a solution that none of us thought of implementing,” Rivera said.

The project was completed June 2 and AWL came home June 6. In early July, Rios-Laurenzana received a message and video from a community member of San Jose. The translated message reads, “Thank you, Yomara and your friends. We are greatly appreciative of the system, which is working. Thank you for everything you all did for our community. We will never forget you or what you have done.”

For more information and ways to support Aggies Without Limits you can visit the website at: https://aggieswithoutlimits.org/.