University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of EngineeringOnline: Autumn 2012
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  Engineers Without Borders_USA UNL Student Chapter Returned to Madagascar for Two More Successful Projects (and 5 photos)EWB-NU installs a solar panel to provide electricity at a Kianjavato school. Visiting with a lemur near Kianjavato. Sieving sand for biosand water filters. A finished filter is delivered to a Kianjavato school. High fives as another BSF is placed in Kianjavato  


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This last summer seven UNL students and two faculty members took a life-changing trip to Madagascar with UNL’s Engineers Without Borders-USA student chapter (EWB-NU) to install solar powered lights at a school without power and to help a remote rural community gain access to clean drinking water.

Ben Pavlik (EWB-NU president, Ph.D. student, Chemical Engineering), Erik Knudsen (Senior, Mechanical Engineering), Ian Parsley (Senior, Biological Systems), and Jodi Sangster (Ph.D. student, Civil Engineering) along with Dr. Dean Patterson (Research Professor, Electrical Engineering) and myself (EWB-NU Faculty Co-Adviser, Associate Professor, Civil Engineering) all worked together with members of the Kianjavato community and schools to install solar panels to power lights in a classroom. The people of Kianjavato cited providing electricity to schools as a priority during our assessment trip in May 2010. Currently a few gas generators supply electricity but at a high cost. With gas over $5/gallon in Madagascar and the daily average wage at less than $1/day, power is essentially non-existent in Kianjavato.

Schools were viewed by the people of Kianjavato as needing electricity to power lights for classrooms. This May’s trip made their wishes come true for one classroom. The school superintendent plans on holding evening study sessions for students preparing for their high school and college entrance exams. This is something they have wanted to do for years but have not been able to do without good light. We plan on continuing to work with the schools to install lights in all of the 48 classrooms in the community of 7,000 people over the next several years.


The solar power installation was just the first part of the work. The solar power team welcomed the water quality team to Madagascar at the main airport as they left to return home. Sangster and I stayed to work with Stacey Joy (Master's students, Civil Engineering), Amanda Dunekacke (Sophomore, Civil Engineering), and Matt Pirog (Senior, Biological Systems Engineering) on the water quality project. The people of Kianjavato, Madagascar lack access to safe water. A biosand filter is a point of use water treatment system that is sized for daily use by households that do not have safe or treated water sources available. Biosand filters remove 95 to 99% of organic contaminants, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, worms, and particles. They are low cost (about $15 per filter) and low maintenance and can typically treat about 20 to 60 liters of water per hour.

In June 2011, EWB-NU students and faculty traveled to Madagascar to introduce biosand filters to the people of Kianjavato by hosting a workshop on biosand filters and installing biosand filters in five schools as a pilot project. This year we hosted a second workshop and completed installation of at least one biosand filter in every public school in Kianjavato. At the end of this year’s workshop, the participants formed their own association to continue to build and install biosand filters in the community and they asked us to return to help them with their gravity fed water supply system in need of repair. What a wonderful way to end a trip and to help us start on our work to return this next year!

Over 92% of the $56,000 needed for these two projects (project costs, airfare, travel expenses, translators, etc.) was raised, donated or self-funded by the students. If you’d like to learn more about the work of these students and perhaps help them with future projects, please contact Dr. Libby Jones at or Karen Moellering at

by Libby Jones


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