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View from the Tank Location

Finished Tank and Team Photos

Villagers Digging the Tank

Engineers Without Borders: Sal Monteverde's Experience in Ecuador

Maggie Kearns Francis

March 25, 2019

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) leverages the expertise of volunteers from across engineering disciplines and industries to respond to requests for engineering project support from governments, United Nations agencies, local communities, and more. These volunteers use their knowledge and skills to tackle the challenges that keep the world’s poorest people from living healthy, productive lives. These volunteers are designing sustainable solutions that empower communities to meet their basic human needs.


Projects vary in size and duration but focus in areas of expertise including disaster response, infrastructure, agriculture, energy, and water, sanitation, and hygiene. Volunteers work as part of a team that perform various services, everything from engineering studies, planning, design, and project management to training, monitoring and evaluation.


Sal Monteverde, a member of our Pittsburgh Water Resource team, recently traveled to Ecuador with Engineers Without Borders for a service trip. We sat down with Sal to ask him a few questions about his experience in Ecuador and with the EWB organization!


How did you initially get involved in Engineers Without Borders?
In my final semester at the University of Pittsburgh, our senior design project was a water distribution project in Panama. We went down to Panama for about a week and surveyed the area. When we came back, we started designing. Although we didn’t get to implement the design in Panama, the experience was spectacular. I knew I wanted to do it again. After I graduated, I contacted the Pittsburgh professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and joined. They were working on an ongoing project in Ecuador and were planning the next implementation trip. I had a lot of interest in this, so I volunteered!


What was your project with Engineers Without Borders?
The Pittsburgh professional chapter of EWB has an ongoing water distribution project in Ecuador. The project is located near the province of Cotopaxi, Ecuador, more specifically in the mountain village of Curingue. It was a ten-day trip. I was accompanied by three other gentlemen; a dam engineer from Michael Baker, a photographer, and a member of the Peace Corps. Our flight landed in Quito, Ecuador. We then drove through Cotopaxi, and then three hours into the mountains. Finally, we arrived to the village of Tingo Pucara, a neighboring village near Curingue.


Recently, EWB Pittsburgh completed a similar water distribution project in Tingo Pucara and the villagers allowed us to stay there. The people in Curingue and Tingo Pucara were very welcoming. We played a lot of soccer with the children in the village!


Water retrieval is an issue for the people of Curingue and TIngo Pucara. Their water source is hundreds of feet below where they live and the terrain is very steep and unstable due to the high sand content in the soil. The object of the project is to pump water from the water source, up to a tank above the village, then gravity-feed the buildings needing water.


By the time we arrived, previous groups had built a pump house by the water source and the villagers had dug a trench for the water line all the way to the tank site. Our job was to pour the concrete tank. We didn’t quite finish, but we finished laying the rebar for the foundation, and the villagers poured the concrete and built the rest after we departed.


How did you prep for your trip?
The prep work before the trip was to becoming familiar with the structural plans of the water storage tank. A lot of the villagers were construction workers and were knowledgeable on building materials, such as rebar and concrete. The villagers did most of the physical work. We were just there to make sure it was built as designed by EWB engineers. Also, because of the high altitude, it was very hard for us to work, we’d get out of breath just walking.


The people in Tingo Pucara and Curingue are very hard working. When children are around six to seven years old, they begin helping with animal herding. The local community members – both men and women – did all of the digging for the tank foundation with shovels and pickaxes. Women were even digging with babies wrapped on their back! The community knows that this project will help them, so they all participate in helping complete it.


Finally, what was your experience in Ecuador like?
Because of the mountainous terrain and poor/sandy soil, the people that live in the mountains don’t have many options for growing crops. Every single meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – was some combination of potato soup, potatoes, rice, eggs, chicken, or peas. But always potato soup, and always a lot of potatoes. Before our initial ride up the mountain, we stopped at a supermarket to get snacks and lots of Salsa de Tomate (ketchup). The food was pretty bland, so we were advised to stock up on sauces!


The young villagers played cultural music for us on our last day. It was very sweet, and the mountain views were absolutely majestic.


Inspired by Sal’s trip and want to get involved in Engineers Without Boarders?


You can head to EWB’s website for more information on the organization or contact Sal for questions specific to his experience!