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Seattle University


Lending a Hand (and a Shovel)

Written by Cal Ihler
April 23, 2012

The first morning back from Belize I found myself driving to work through the cold Seattle drizzle with the car heater on full blast, trying to hold onto the last of a lingering memory of Belizean sunshine and warmth.

I was in Belize with Professionals Without Borders for a 10-day service trip in March, where my colleague Mike Mullen (mechanical shop lead) and I led a team of seven SU students, ranging from freshmen to seniors.

Our group worked with Liberty Children's Home, an NGO devoted to the care of children who have been abandoned, abused and afflicted with HIV. The home is a sanctuary for these children, providing a loving and  nurturing environment with a high standard of education.

Very much in the spirit of Seattle University's commitment to sustainability, the purpose of our project was to help Liberty substantially lower their water bill while more effectively irrigating their extensive gardens.

We installed 2" and 3" pipe to carry grey water from three of the residences to an underground collection tank. From the tank the water is then pumped to a 25-foot tower and tank and then gravity fed through 900 feet of pipe to irrigate the vegetable gardens. Some of the water is used to wash down the pig pens each day.

The work was challenging. We woke up early and spent 8-10 hours each day digging trenches and installing the pipe. We dug into mix of dirt and very sticky clay that was hard to get off the shovels after each scoop. Our team of students didn't complain as they kept digging, ignoring their tired bodies as well as mosquitoes, blazing sun and tropical rain.

The trench ran approximately 280 feet, graded from 3 inches to 26 inches deep. As with all of our projects, we built them as close to SU standards as possible, with the operable word being "possible." We had to get a little creative with this one because the pipe had to run so far and with a minimal amount of grade to do so.

Thanks to the hard work of our students, the project was a great success. By tapping into the three residences, we were able to double the amount of water Liberty Children's Home has to irrigate their gardens and washing down their growing pig operation. We greatly enjoyed our partnership with such a deserving organization and look forward to years of further cooperation.

Cal Ihler, pictured above, is associate director of facilities operations and maintenance. For more information, visit