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Greetings from the Trenches: Rose-Hulman Engineers without Borders blog from Dominican Republic

September 1, 2011


Four members of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Engineers Without Borders (EWB) group are currently continuing the organization's work with the Batey Relief Alliance in the Dominican Republic.  They are renovating an old building on a sugar cane plantation into a functional in-patient facility for the health clinic Centro Medico, which serves approximately 10,000 people.  This summer, the EWB team is focusing on expanding the building's septic system, constructing a septic tank as well as installing a pipe network.  Work will continue through August 29. 

The Rose-Hulman group includes EWB President Angelica Patino and Abby Grommet, two holdovers from last year's trip, and newcomers Ryan Oliver and Elaine Schaudt.  There are two mentors,  Wil Painter of Indianapolis and John Gardner, associate professor of Spanish (serving as cultural mentor/translator).

EWB projects are multi-faceted and students bear significant responsibility to successfully complete the projects. 

Members of the EWB chapter offer the following observations of the project so far this summer.

What is EWB?

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is an organization that connects students with communities around the world to implement engineering projects.  Members practice hands-on engineering design, gain international experience and learn how to manage large-scale engineering projects all at once. With the help of technical and cultural mentors, students are fully involved in all aspects of the project.  Being in EWB means being a committed member -- students communicate with the non-governmental organization and community, make decisions in project scope, brainstorm concepts, crunch numbers in design and, finally, travel on-site to build.

The Rose-Hulman Chapter


Currently, we are helping to expand a health clinic in Batey Cinco Casas, Dominican Republic.  The clinic, Centro Medico, caters to 10,000 individuals in the Monte Plata region and wishes to expand its care and services.  This portion of the project includes renovating a currently unused building, which will soon be used as an in-patient facility where patients can be monitored long term and given specialized treatment.  Last summer, we constructed a roof along with Architecture for Humanity-Indianapolis, and this summer, we are installing a septic system to handle the increased load of the clinic.  To learn more about our chapter and past projects, visit  For questions, comments, suggestions for the blog and anything else, get in touch with the EWB president, Angelica Patino ( 

Well, how did we get here?

EWB members work throughout the school year to design, plan and prepare for implementing projects in the summer.  EWB Nationals has each chapter go through a project approval process before travelling.  This process includes information-gathering trips to collect data and design parameters, formally written design documents and design presentations screened by professional engineers.  In addition to working with EWB Nationals, we also fundraise for our trips and organize all the logistical details for travel and construction overseas.   

The Basics

Who: Travel Team Summer 2011 (students: Abby Grommet, Ryan Oliver, Angelica Patino, Elaine Schaudt; mentor Dr. John Gardner, associate professor of Spanish)

  • What: Installation of septic system for health clinic
  • When: August 15-29, 2011
  • Where: Dominican Republic - El Toro (hotel in Monte Plata), Centro Medico (clinic in Batey Cinco Casas)
  • Why: Renovate old building into in-patient facility to expand services of Centro Medico

A Day in the Life


Dog barks and rooster crows echoing from the street below jolt us out of bed, as early as 4 a.m.  After strapping on boots caked with mud from the previous work day, lathering on layers of 100+ SPF sun screen, spraying ourselves down with bug repellant and attempting to stretch our sore muscles, we usually frequent the local grocery store to grab five-liter jugs of water (which usually end up empty by the end of the day) and hit the fruit stand on the main street.  The señor who runs the stand greets us with a smile and warm "hola," as he single handedly cuts the fruit with a machete and gives change to three to four customers at the same time.  For only 35 Dominican pesos (less than one U.S. dollar), you can get a mix of freshly cut mangoes, pineapples, papaya, bananas, cantaloupe, watermelon and the choice of topping it all off with honey.  We feast on this breakfast at the town plaza while people watching (and being watched).  The scene looks something like this. . . men with worn faces and women in dusters eye the streets from their plastic lawn chairs on the sidewalk.  Hoards of middle-school age kids shuffle along to school while sporting baby blue button ups, black backpacks and khaki pants.   Another group of kids are up to something entirely different -- these shoe shiners chase around the men and women catching a ride to work and split their profits among themselves.  An awkward commotion storms up as the local eccentric tries to weasel her way into getting free food from street vendors setting up shop.  The occasional gentleman texting on horseback passes by.

After dropping off our room keys and chatting it up with Freddie at the front desk, we leave our hotel, El Toro, around 8 a.m. and take a 30-minute drive to Centro Medico.  Rudy gives us a lift in a not-so-spacious truck, with one person comfortably situated in the front and four people practically sitting on top of each other in the back.  With windows rolled down, we drive through the Dominican countryside as fresh air hits us and unkempt vegetation, overflowing rivers from hurricane season's recurrent rains, and almost invisible mountains meet our eyes.  Sprinkled in here and there are small towns with brightly colored rows of wooden and concrete houses that melt into one another as we speed past.  The town dance club looks unusually solitary without bachata and merengue beats pouring into the streets with crowds enjoying an evening El Presidente (the preferred drink) and couples stirring in the dim light.  Mechanic shops roar with clangs and motor hums.  Roadside restaurants grace the air with the scent of every type of empanada you can imagine and chicken prepared in more ways than you would like. Most buildings, filled with people bustling about their morning routines, draw people in with hand painted signs sprawled across them. 


Locals zing past on motorcycles, sometimes with up to five people sandwiched together.  Rudy points out a few landmarks -- the Monte Plata police station, prison, town brothel and cock fighting arena.  The only reasons for slowing down are speed bumps (sleeping policemen), where kids try to sell us nuts and other various goods through the truck window, a still-drowsy dog that wanders into the street, huge pot holes that pop up every so often, chickens darting across the road or trees downed by the previous day's storms. 

Stacks and stacks of green crate boxes, stamped with "El Presidente" in white print, signal that we're approaching the clinic.  As we pass the entrance gate, lines of people spill out into the front courtyard, awaiting their turn to reach the front desk.  We are greeted with curious stares and inviting smiles as we pull into the clinic property.  We reach the road in front of the building that once was a housing complex for sugar cane harvesters but is now the clinic's in-patient facility in the making.  It bore walls with faded turquoise paint, now boasting a new coat of yellow paint and a hurricane-proof roof sitting on top.   We grab our backpacks and water jugs from the truck bed, excited and anxious for the full day's work ahead of us.

Covered in sweat, mud and, on bad days, slightly sunburned, we halt work around 5 p.m. Depending on what needs to be done, we may go on for another hour or two.  Most of us surrender to sleep on the drive back, when Dominican pop blasting from Rudy's speakers seeps into our unconscious.  Back at El Toro, we take turns showering and deliberate what neighborhood restaurant to check out.   After wandering the streets, the urge to sleep overtakes us and we rest up for the next day.