The Norman Transcript


November 19, 2013

Students go south over holiday break

NORMAN — More than a dozen University of Oklahoma College of Engineering students and professors are giving up their Thanksgiving break to help build water systems in El Salvador.

The students are part of the engineering outreach group Sooners Without Borders, which partners with disadvantaged communities to build economically sustainable engineering projects. The group is working through EcoViva as part of their Community Empowerment Tour.

“Sooners Without Borders help develop internationally responsible engineering students through cultural and educational opportunities like El Salvador,” said Jim Chamberlain, OU environmental engineering professor and Sooners without Borders faculty adviser. “These experiences align with President Boren’s vision of advancing a global perspective in all aspects of OU education.”

Two weeks before the trip, Chamberlain prepares the students with the usual safety precautions.

“Don’t drink the water or eat raw vegetables, bring toilet paper and ear plugs,” Chamberlain said. “It gets very noisy at 5 a.m., when the farmers and the animals start the day.”

Chamberlain also prepares students for life-changing experiences. He cautions the team that even after hundreds of hours of preparation, their plans may be “thrown out the window” when they arrive, due to weather or logistical issues.

“Be flexible, enjoy the experience and be open to the social and cultural exchanges,” Chamberlain said.

The group will stay with host families in Ciudad Romero, where they will work and be immersed in their way of living. Students will eat with them, stay in their beds or hammocks, use their outdoor latrines and take bucket showers from the well.

The village was founded in 1991 by approximately 300 families of former refugees from the Salvadoran highlands returning after 10 years of exile in the Panama jungles.

The farming community is working with groups like Sooners Without Borders to build an infrastructure compatible with the region’s climate and topography.

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