Sleeping in 100-degree heat in sub-Saharan Africa and surveying construction sites may not be everyone’s ideal winter break, but ISE Junior, Amy Bevilacqua, was ready for the challenge. As a member of the NC State Chapter of Engineers Without Borders, Bevilacqua traveled to Sierra Leone with a group of student and professional engineers to provide a clean water source to 700 school children. And she’s not done yet.
Clean Water – A Project Six Years in the Making
In December 2016 when Amy Bevilacqua (ISE ’18) and her Engineers Without Borders teammates arrived in Lower Allentown, an urban area near Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, they were eager to get to work and fulfill a goal six years in the making: design and institute year-round access to clean water for the 700 school children of the Dele Village Learning Center.
To prepare for the trip, Bevilacqua researched well designs and water distribution systems. The Dele Village Learning Center has five bathrooms equipped with plumbing fixtures, but without running water. Therefore, students and teachers manage by carrying buckets of water into the school – a very laborious task. To improve this system and the lives of the community, the NC State Engineering team planned and installed a well with a manual hand pump, providing ready access to sanitary water for cooking, cleaning and drinking.
On site, Bevilacqua supervised the construction project and also conducted surveys of the school’s property in preparation for future projects, inclusive of implementing a water distribution system. “A lot of the work was to plan for the next trip,” she said. “We’re going to go back in December to put in a distribution system that utilizes the school’s preexisting plumbing.”
“Knowing it would be almost a year before we could come back, we didn’t want to leave them with this useless well,” she added. “We gave them a hand pump because we wanted them to have water access during the 12 months in between our trips.”
Before returning to the United States, the team made sure to equip members of the community with the tools they would need to utilize the well effectively. They talked at length about how to operate the pump, provided an operations and maintenance manual and taught a school employee how to make minor repairs. “Education was a big part of it,” said Bevilacqua.
A Kind and Grateful Community
The genuine nature of Lower Allentown’s community was a pleasant surprise to Belivaqua and the other students, as they were welcomed with open arms the moment they arrived.
“Children would run up to you and hold your hand. Everyone was thankful and gracious, even though they knew we weren’t from there,” said Bevilacqua. “We never had an issue with the community. Everyone respected each other. The close-knit families, even in an extremely poor area, looked out for each other.”
The community’s kindness and gratitude were further evidenced when, to celebrate the New Year, Bevilacqua and two other students got a ride to Tiwai Island, a wildlife sanctuary, from a parent whose children attend the Dele Village Learning Center. “Mr. Ba’s generosity left me dumbfounded,” she said. “He works from sun-up to sun-down and still gave up a part of his holiday to take us on our little tourist vacation, a three hour drive each way, all because we were doing work for the school.”
Bridging Interests: Engineering and Service
Bevilacqua did not always plan to study Industrial Engineering. She arrived at NC State expecting to thrive in Biomedical Engineering, but found she wanted more flexibility and greater human connection, which she soon found in ISE.
“Industrial Engineering spoke to me because it’s broader – you can go into many fields but you have a specialty in making stuff more efficient, experience working in teams and fixing up what processes are already there,” she said. “That’s what I’m good at.”
Not only does she want to fix things, she wants to make an impact. That’s why, when she joined NC State’s Chapter of Engineers Without Borders, she immediately signed up for the Sierra Leone Water Systems trip. “I went full force into it – I really wanted to be a part of it,” she explained. “I wanted to travel and I was eager to see the project come through.”
This trip was not the first time Bevilacqua traveled abroad with service in mind. When she was 15 years old, she joined a group of students across the country to spend three weeks in rural Costa Rica to work with a sea turtle conservation organization.
“That’s why I chose Engineers Without Borders, because I knew that service was what I wanted to do, I wanted to see what else is out there, and I wanted to see how I can help other people.” She particularly enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the trip. “I really wanted to go and see all of our work implemented, so going to Africa was great because you get to see all the people— you get to see how you’re helping.”
Engineers Without Borders’ work in Sierra Leone will continue this December with their next large scale project: a full water distribution system for the entire school. Because the school does not have a source of electricity, the team will have to rely on the force of gravity to distribute the water.
“The design system entails having this immersible pump, running it up the side of the school into a tank, and from the tank everything would be gravity-fed,” said Bevilacqua. “A lot of what we’ve done is calculating for the gravity to ensure enough water flow and seeing where the piping could go without being obstructed by the school or messing up the infrastructure.”
Though it is months away, Bevilacqua is already looking forward to returning to Sierra Leone in December. She hopes to focus on planning and publicity for the project to ensure the team makes the largest impact possible for the Lower Allentown community.
“It was a really great experience, I can’t wait to go back,” she said. “I wouldn’t give back my winter break for anything.”