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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Engineering project postponed following the closing of Ecuador’s borders

Members of Wichita State’s Engineers Without Borders walk across the bridge of the village of Mercedes de Agua Sucia in Manabi, Ecuador, during a visit last summer. Photo courtesy of Wichita State’s Engineers Without Borders.

A group of students part of Wichita State’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) took a trip last summer to Ecuador where they began plans to build a bridge for a small village. The building process was set to begin on a return trip this summer, but plans were suddenly paused following the closure of Ecuador’s borders.

The village of Mercedes de Agua Sucia in Manabi, Ecuador, has about 20 families that currently use a bridge made of trees, bamboo and metal wires to cross a river to commute. With the help of EWB a sustainable bridge will be built, creating a safer passage for the community.

Engineers Without Borders USA is a national organization that partners with people all around the world to create sustainable solutions for communities both locally and internationally. Wichita State, along with other universities like Kansas State University and the University of Kansas, has an EWB chapter. 

The opportunity to help Mercedes de Agua Sucia came from the chapter’s national website, where different chapters can bid on projects from all around the world. The project was taken on at the beginning of 2020, only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down. 

Jacob Mendez, the interim assistant dean for student success, has been the adviser of WSU’s EWB since the chapter’s reactivation six years ago. Since then, he says their focus has been on the project in Ecuador. 

EWB began the surveying process in the summer of 2023 by visiting the village to collect measurements and other data to bring back with them to start creating a sustainable design plan. Along with getting numbers and measurements, they facilitated relationships with the community. Mendez and EWB President J. Everett Vasquez, a junior studying electrical engineering, both agreed these interactions were important in knowing exactly what the people of Mercedes de Agua Sucia need. 

“We’re building it for them,” Mendez said. “So if we don’t know what they want and if we don’t engage their voices and get their opinions, we’re not going to build the correct project.”

A requirement for doing a project like this is participation from members of the community in the building of the bridge. They are expected to engage with the volunteers. For Vasquez, the relationship and involvement from the community was more than a requirement; it was essential in building relationships and good communication with the community. 

“I think it’s really easy to be divided in our culture nowadays, especially like, cities are big, the world’s even bigger, and we all have our screens and stuff,” Vasquez said. “But, like, just getting to have lunch with them and just have unity and realize that, hey, it’s just different circumstances, it just looks different. Having that unity that then our students can bring back here and then have a different perspective.”

Members of Wichita State’s Engineers Without Borders spend time with locals while visiting the village of Mercedes de Agua Sucia in Manabi, Ecuador, during a visit last summer. Photo courtesy of Wichita State’s Engineers Without Borders.

Since their return, the chapter has been working on computer aided designs, and members have been split up into teams who are assigned different jobs. At the beginning of the semester they were approved to head back to Ecuador and begin building, but the state of Ecuador has put those plans on hold.

“We want to travel in late July, but currently the national security of Ecuador is not great and (is) not permitting us to travel,” Vasquez said. “In October, EWB as a whole canceled all travel to Ecuador due to drug trafficking, violence and other military organizations, militant groups moving throughout the country.” 

In early January, the U.S. Embassy in Peru issued a press release explaining a 60-day state of emergency in Ecuador. It states that attacks by criminal gangs were part of the cause for the closure. This closure came shortly after a television station was ambushed by 13 masked men. This is only one of several attacks by groups since the escape of Adolfo Macia, a local gang leader, from prison.

Plans are still up in the air for whether or not the chapter will be able to return this summer. Mendez says the group is more than likely to return next winter. 

Although the trip is pending, fundraising continues as they will need between $40 to $50 thousand to make the trip. The community where the bridge is built will be responsible for 5% of the cost and, with help from the WSU Foundation and Alumni Engagement group, they have raised around $20,000 through a website similar to GoFundMe. They’ll also continue to reach out to different companies and participate in traditional fundraising, like working concessions during WSU athletic events. 

A member of Wichita State’s Engineers Without Borders surveys and soil tests the river in the village of Mercedes de Agua Sucia in Manabi, Ecuador, during a trip last summer. Photo courtesy of Wichita State’s Engineers Without Borders.

Mendez says that world events have been one of the biggest obstacles as the chapter has struggled through two of them within the length of the project. 

“It’s hard whenever we’re trying to fundraise and world events get in the way of us getting there,” Mendez said. “Donors … can only give during fiscal years and so if they’re given for this summer fiscal year, the money could expire, they may not give the following year. So world events impact everything.”

Through these obstacles, Mendez says creating experiences students will never forget is his favorite part about being a part of the Mercedes de Agua Sucia bridge project. On the other hand, Vasquez has enjoyed seeing the improvement in the chapter at WSU since its reinstatement.

“Just the growth like that, you know, the events are cool and getting the memories is really awesome but just getting to see the growth is so, so, so good. Like it’s like, ‘Yes, it worked, like, we did it.’ And there’s still a lot to do,” Vasquez said. 

Anyone interested in joining the chapter can join their meetings every Thursday at 7 p.m. in John Bardo 264. They can also contact the group by contacting Jacob Mendez via email at [email protected] or by visiting their website

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About the Contributor
Jennifer Anima
Jennifer Anima, Reporter
Jennifer Anima is a first-year reporter for The Sunflower. Before joining staff, she served as editor-in-chief at the Butler Lantern, the student newspaper for Butler Community College. Anima uses she/her pronouns.

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    Bob JohnsonJun 14, 2024 at 4:18 am

    Hi, great article. It’s great to see a much-needed project in the works for Ecuador. One thing to note: Ecuador’s border closure with Colombia and Peru won’t affect international travel by plane to Quito. The border closing during the state of emergency is only for land crossings. While I agree Ecuador is dangerous right now, especially Manabi, a trip during the US winter will be during the Ecuadorian summer, which in Manabi can be uncomfortably hot and plagued with dengue outbreaks.