While FIMRC aims to medically serve those in the developing world, we have volunteers come from all educational backgrounds and we encourage all majors to travel to our project sites. Volunteer Briana Tremblay, an engineering major from Roger Williams University, put her skills and knowledge to work at Project La Merced last month after a landslide occurred in a nearby community.
Over Spring break I traveled through FIMRC to La Merced, Peru with other members from the Roger Williams’ chapter. We got there extremely excited to help the people of La Merced in any way possible even though many of our majors do not have to do with the medical field. With a variety of different majors, we had unique set of skills that we hoped to use, and we were given the chance to use some of them starting on Monday.
In the morning a few of our volunteers, were able to visit a disaster site not far from where we were staying. A few days prior, there had been a landslide due to a flood, and FIMRC was asked if they could help. In an afternoon meeting, those who had visited the site told all of us about the horrors. How there were families who completely lost everything in the landslide, and they were now living in tents that were inches apart. We were told that these people also did not have bathrooms or clean water. After talking in a big group for fifteen minutes, we all broke into small groups concentrating on specific problems. One group made plans come up with donations to give them that we had brought from home, another planned health talks to give the people, and a third group of engineers decided to make a water filtration system.
As an engineer, I was in the water filtration group. We were so excited and ready to get started right away. We came up with these extravagant plans and went into town to start looking for supplies. Right as we got to the hardware store, we realized in all of our excitement, we had not brought a translator with us. So in very broken Spanish we asked for our supplies such as wood trash (wood chips) and dirt of beach (sand). It was hard but the local people were so nice and thought it was funny.
Once we got back to the house, we soon realized that the original model that we had come up with was not going to be possible since it was too big to complete in 20 hours. We decided to make a couple smaller family size ones that we could show the families how to build themselves. Everyone else who we had traveled with was so excited to help us as well, so they made a fire and helped us collect the ashes that we needed in the filter. By the time we went to bed we had one almost functioning water filter made out of an old water bottle, an old fruit crate, a small piece of fabric from an old t-shirt, and ashes from the fire. After finishing it the next day, we were able to bring it to the site.
As soon as we got there, we started setting up the water filter by the cooking area. We instantly were swarmed by mothers wondering how it worked, but again with our poor Spanish, we were not able to get much across to them. Shortly, after though we were able to give a presentation with translator. As we explained how it worked and how to create it, the people were so intrigued. It was so humbling to see how interested the people actually were in what we were saying. They asked many questions, and it seemed as if they were actually going to make some themselves after we left.
After the presentation on the water purifier, a local break dancing group that we had asked to come performed which all of the kids seemed to enjoy, and for the next hour, all of the FIMRC volunteers played soccer, tag, and other games with the kids. There was also a group of kids who were so interested in the water purifier, that they spent this time with some of the engineers who continued to explain how it worked. They were extremely interested in figuring out how to help the engineers improve the design.
As awful as it was to see the conditions that the natural disaster left, it was an amazing experience to see the way the FIMRC members came together and worked with each person’s strengths to provide the most we could for the victims. There was also no better feeling than creating something that would help the victims and have them be so interested in how it worked. This was an experience that I will never forget, because it was my first time using engineering to help those who truly needed it which is what I hope to do after college.