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Fresh Water for Bolivia

Students and professors from Washington and Lee and VMI spent two weeks this summer in the village of Pampoyo, Bolivia, to oversee the construction of a multi-phase water delivery system that will bring fresh water to the villagers. The clean water will be used for crop irrigation, and those working on the project hope the boost in supply will lead to a substantial increase in arable land for Pampoyo.

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Dana Fredericks ’12, who funded her trip with a Johnson Opportunity grant, noted that clean water will also help improve several problem areas for the villagers. “The Bolivian villagers need more arable land to grow crops for food as well as one-day produce cash crops to exchange for other foods and goods,” she explained “We are looking to increase the village’s crop production by 20 percent at the moment. This will help them diversify their diet as well as create more work, encouraging the young people to stay in the village instead of leaving for the city of La Paz.”

The water delivery system for Pampoyo will be built in multiple phases. Over the summer, the group built the system that will capture and divert water from the stream that serves as the village’s water supply. Phase two will be the laying of over three miles of pipe that will transport clean water to the fields.

Jonathan Erickson, assistant professor of physics and engineering and the advisor to the W&L EWB, said, “Although we’re there to help with the actual building of this system, we’re more like project managers. An important part of the project also is educating the community so they understand how this contraption works so they can maintain it.”

Asked to describe one of her days on the site, Fredericks said:

“Pampoyo is located at an elevation of 11,800 feet and the worksite is at roughly 13,700 feet. At such a high altitude, the three-mile walk to the site quickly takes your breath away. Pampoyo has miles of mountains, some higher than 15,000 feet. Once at the site, we set to work with the men and women of the community at our side. Today we are constructing the dam. We already have the wood mold and the steel rebar in place; next comes the mixing and pouring of the cement. This whole dam must be poured before noon so that it has time to set before nightfall, when it runs the risk of freezing. After pouring the dam, we worked on digging a trench. Together, our team and the community work efficiently until 3 p.m. when it begins to get cold again.”

The group plans to return next year to complete the project. As Erickson noted, “It is one thing to see your plans for this kind of project on paper, but being on location, getting to know the people of the community, is a transforming experience.”