Guatemala: Engineers Without Borders

Nicolas Benzoi

What organization did you volunteer with, and where were you located?

I volunteered with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at UCLA which worked with Casasito, a local volunteer organization in Antigua, Guatemala. We traveled to Momostenago, Guatemala to do our work there.


Why did you choose to work with Engineers Without Borders?

I chose EWB-UCLA because it offered me a chance to apply my limited engineering education in a more hands-on and altruistic manner which actually helped improve people’s daily lives.


Does this organization have a UCLA connection?

Casasito does not have a UCLA connection other than through EWB-UCLA


How did your experience influence you? What knowledge or insights did you gain during your time of service?

I had never been to a developing country before so I really had no idea what it was like to live in an area where running water and electricity is widely unavailable. In preparation for the trip, the other EWB-UCLA volunteers and I did a lot of design work and discussion in regard to the trip we went on. Once I was actually there, speaking to the families about how their lives improved directly because of the work EWB-UCLA did there really changed my perspective on the impact one can have. Before actually seeing and interacting with the affected people the whole process seemed like a lot of theory and red tape, but once I had multiple families express so much joy on seeing us return to check on the previously installed water catchment systems, and hearing them explain just how much their lives were improved by our work, my whole view of the organization changed, and I understood exactly how much it meant to work on a project like the EWB-UCLA Guatemala project.


Did you experience any culture shock during your volunteering?

Yes, as I mentioned above, I had never been to a developing country before. So seeing so many people living on very little money (often less than $5 USD/day for a family of 6) was very enlightening. The people we worked with are some of the most impoverished people in Guatemala, but they were largely very happy with their circumstances. It was an entirely tropical rural region we spent our time in, and many of the families did a lot of sustenance farming, as well as build all of their own abodes.


What was a typical day like for you?

This trip was what is called a “close-out” trip, so we were not actually allowed to physically change anything. Our job was to take water samples, ask the families about their health before and after the water catchment systems were installed and the ecofilters were provided, and then return and explain to them the results of their water tests. A typical day was like this:

5:30 am – Wake up, eat breakfast at local’s house/restaurant
7:00 am – Finish breakfast, get on transportation (back of pick-up truck or “chicken” bus) and shuttle out of Momostenago into the surrounding country side
7:30 am – Arrive at first family, take water samples, and talk to the head of the family (if present) about the health conditions and water tank functionality. We would repeat this eleven times, walking from house to house, which were located anywhere from a few hundred meters to a kilometer apart. One of the families would have us for lunch of tamalitos, black beans, queso fresco, plantains, which is an extremely common meal in the part of Guatemala.
4:00 pm – Return to hotel. Mark and place all water samples in incubator
5:00 pm – Go to dinner at same place as breakfast and spend the afternoon in town.
9:30 pm – Sleep

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