B&L's Lindsay Reichlein, Nick Shrimpton Head to Guatemala with Engineers Without Borders

Two B&L employees, Lindsay Reichlein and Nick Shrimpton, are members of the Syracuse Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA.  The Syracuse EWB Chapter has been working on a project to build latrines at a primary school in Las Majadas, Guatemala.  EWB is in the process of building the latrines right now, and Lindsay and Nick were able to participate in the construction thanks to B&L’s Community Service Award, which covered their travel costs and time away from work.


The Las Majadas (pronounced mah-HAH-dahs) school has approximately 350 students aged 4-12.  The community is located on the far side of the Palajunoj Valley (pronounced pal-ah-WHO-knock), about 45 minutes up a mountainous dirt road from the city of Quetzaltenango, which the locals call Xela after its former Mayan name, Xelaju (pronounced SHAY-la-who).  The community is adjacent to Santa Maria, a dormant volcano; an active volcano, Santiaguito, is located on the far side of Santa Maria from the community.


Xela and the Palajunoj Valley are part of the western mountain highland region of Guatemala.  This region is amongst the poorest in Central America, and parasitic infections and diarrheal disease contribute to malnutrition rates higher than many African countries and are a leading cause of death in the region.  This is exacerbated by the lack of clean water and sanitation facilities in the Palajunoj Valley, which is why Engineers Without Borders is working on these issues at the school in Las Majadas.  The school had only four functional basic pit latrines that were nearly at capacity, and the limited space at the school left no locations to build new latrines.  Improved sanitation at school, combined with educational components on handwashing and hygiene, will reduce transmission of infection and disease for the schoolchildren as well as the rest of the family at home.


After completing an assessment trip to gather information in May 2014, EWB designed a standalone restroom structure that will provide four new latrine stalls and a handwashing station.  The structure is built atop the former latrine location because of space constraints at the school.  The new latrines are composting latrines combined with features of a “ventilated improved” latrine, which means odor and flies will be reduced and the waste will compost in place, allowing them to use the new latrines for many years.


The new latrines were designed using American building standards and design codes, with careful consideration given to the seismic vulnerability of the region and the availability of materials and equipment in the area.  The structure is designed from materials consistent with the surrounding infrastructure: reinforced concrete, concrete masonry units (CMU), and corrugated metal.  The latrines feature a cast-in-place concrete frame to transfer loads from the roof and floor slab to the substructure, with CMU walls used as pit dividers and infill between the concrete columns.  The structure is intended to provide over 20 years of service and fit aesthetically within the community.


EWB constructed the latrines from May 18th through June 15th with a mixture of Syracuse Professional Chapter members and students from the SUNY-ESF Chapter.  While the design of the latrines was relatively straight-forward, construction proved to be no easy task.  Due to the lack of equipment in the area, various construction tasks have to be completed by hand, including cutting and bending rebar, grading aggregates, and mixing concrete and mortar.  The community has been a tremendous help, providing manual labor and several tricks of the trade to help the team keep up with the schedule. 


Lindsay led Week 1 of construction, during which the excavation was completed and concrete footers for the building were poured.  During Week 2, Nick’s team built the pit walls from CMUs and formed the columns.  The rainy season hit in full force during Week 3 slowed construction down over the last two weeks while EWB was there.  However, EWB has partnered with a local mason from Xela who has agreed to complete the rest of the building, so the full structure should be operational in July, weather depending.


Around December 2017, EWB will return to Las Majadas to evaluate the effectiveness of the latrines at composting, as well as whether the community is properly using the latrines and handwashing stations.  EWB will likely combine this monitoring trip with an assessment trip for a future water project in the community.


If you’re interested in traveling with EWB in the future or just working on the projects here at home, Lindsay or Nick would be glad to provide you with more information!