Engineering Service Learning in Honduras

During Spring Break, I traveled to Honduras for ten days and worked at an orphanage of children who were born with HIV/AIDs. My team and I built an aquaponics system that will eventually provide cilantro and tilapia fish for the residents. Other teams on my trip implemented electrical improvements, expanded the goat enclosure, and created a compost bin.

I declared my Humanitarian Engineering minor during the second semester of my first year. When I declared this minor, I had only had experience in Humanitarian work around the Columbus community. I had always had the idea of expanding my experience abroad but wasn’t sure how to. When I found this trip, I knew it was the perfect first step. These ten days in Honduras became much more important to me than I would have ever thought. During this trip, I achieved things I thought were way beyond my knowledge, I made connections with people I thought I never would, and I found my passion. Because of this trip I am able to say that my biggest passion is using my engineering knowledge to help those of low socioeconomic levels all around the world. I fully immersed myself in the culture and the language and traditions and I can never be more grateful for how welcoming everyone was. I expected this trip to be incredibly difficult and somewhat ‘out of my league.’ I was entirely wrong with this expectation. I now have a better understanding of what I am able to accomplish and, more importantly, what we, as a group of random people who decided to take the same class, are able to accomplish together. I am incredibly blessed to be given this opportunity and will forever be thankful to those who shared it with me.

During our trip, we were living at the orphanage among the children. The children had been exposed to English since a very young age, but most of them were not exactly comfortable speaking it. Even with language being a barrier, it was very easy forming relationships with each and every one of them. Every night after dinner, we set aside time to play soccer, board games, or even something as simple as tag. Regardless of their situation, each child at the orphanage had a huge smile on their face all the time. Nothing could stand in their way and nothing could bring them down. They taught me so many things I thought I already knew. Their bubbly personalities and gleaming smiles will always be the most impactful and memorable things from this experience.

This trip was one of the first opportunities I had to really create something with my own two hands. I had little experience with power tools, no experience with aquaponics and even less experience abroad. I went into this trip apprehensive about each one of these things. By the end of the ten days, I felt as though I was a professional in all three. I was able to apply every aspect of my engineering knowledge and skills in just one experience. I improved my communication skills (in English and Spanish), my ability to lead and work in a team, and my trouble-shooting abilities. In a country where a Home Depot is not right down the street, my team and I learned to adapt and reconsider the importance of the part or tool when a problem arose. Because of this experience, I have become a better engineer and even a better person.

On one of our excursion days, my group and I visited a local university called Zamorano. This university was highly focused on agriculture and environment conservation in developing countries. The largest research topics were based on providing renewable energy through solar panels and wind turbines, sustainable agriculture practices and clean water harvesting in developing countries. What fascinated me the most was the amount of humanitarian agricultural projects they had been researching. They combined their dedication to teaching students with the importance of using engineering techniques to design for the poorer 90% of the world. Many companies all around the world focus on creating new gadgets and gizmos for the richest 10% of the people in the world. Zamorano is working to change that statistic and give the necessities to those who need it most.

This has been the most important experience of my life, thus far. Within these ten days I was able to find my passion and so many more interests I didn’t even know I had. I was comfortable in the Latin American culture and felt as though it was a second home. I see myself traveling back to Central America sometime in the near future and spending an extended amount of time there. I can now confidently say that my sole passion and dream in life is to use my Humanitarian and Biological Engineering skills to help those in need. I want to focus my life on aiding the poorer 90% of this world. I’ve discovered that I thrive in situations where the project could take a drastically different turn at any moment. I enjoy the creativity and problem-solving skills these projects require. I can’t imagine working at a job where I have mundane responsibilities and straight forward project objectives. I am excited for the future and where my new dreams take me.