Valpo Students Work to Foster Generation of Engineers in Haiti

Valpo sophomore Jacob Yager joined some classmates and mechanical engineering professor Daniel Blood, Ph.D. for a spring break trip to the Caribbean earlier this year, but he quickly realized it was no jaunt to the beach.

“It was unreal,” Jacob says of his arrival in Les Cayes, Haiti. “I think I only saw one STOP sign. Traffic control pretty much meant doing your best to stay out of the way.”

Professor Blood organized the trip for the University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, an international agency that offers assistance throughout the developing world. The dozen students spent six days there in early March.

20150301-EWB---Haiti-090Les Cayes, in southwestern Haiti, is home to Pwoje Espwa (Creole for “Project Hope”), which houses more than 400 children and young adults. Some are orphans while many more have lost a parent or have parents who cannot care for them. Far too often, children without parents end up on the streets or as domestic workers in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Pwoje Espwa seeks to break that cycle.

“The technical schools there are very poor,” Professor Blood says. “The basic plumbing and electrical infrastructure is bad to begin with, and there’s not much that can be done if people aren’t educated to fix it.”

The group from Valpo came with a 3-D printer, which had many immediate uses. Basic parts for golf carts and other machines and tools in need of repair at the school’s compound were among the first projects in a place that doesn’t enjoy the convenience of myriad retail outlets or reliable package delivery.

Another encouraging sign? The Haitian teens were quick to pick up the nuances of the technology.

“We’d work with them from noon to 5 p.m., then break for dinner,” Jacob says, who recently was elected president of Valpo’s EWB chapter.

“The kids kept on working even after we left. One of them had a remote-control car and was designing parts for it. It was great to see them pick things up so quickly.”

Professor Blood says the next trip, scheduled for May 19, will focus on examining possibilities for solar power at Project Hope. If the reception is anything like the March visit, it should yield another wave of memories for the students and those they’re working to assist.

“I think the students get a lot out of it,” he says. “It’s not just sitting in a classroom; they get to see right away how things they do can make an enormous impact on someone’s life.”