Students Gain Experience in Cross-Cultural Learning & Adaptation

Rural Zambia is an area of Africa that experiences a lack of potable water, as well as widespread use of stoves for cooking with emissions that cause unhealthy indoor air quality.

A multidisciplinary team of students from Gonzaga completed a fourth and final year in 2016 to improve the health of Zambezi communities thanks to an EPA P3 (People, Plant, Prosperity) Phase II Grant, which was originally awarded to a senior design team in 2012.  Dr. Noel Bormann, Professor of Civil Engineering is the principal investigator for the grant.

The project has both evolved and touched the lives of many GU students and people in Zambia.  Dr. Bormann says there is value in the long-term funding, as students have been able to see what worked from previous years, and more importantly, what did not.

Students brought their goals, designs and ideas to the project, but allowed their path to be flexible, strongly influenced by feedback and connection with the local community.  Over the course of the project, students adjusted their stove designs by incorporating locally made bricks, improved sustainability, cost and fuel efficiency, as well as integrating community assessment of the stove.  Feedback included a request to see how stove concepts could improve a fruit dryer so that ripe mango could be preserved instead of being lost to rot. 

Like the stoves, the effort to improve water quality has responded to community input and changed over the course of the project.  Previous teams developed concrete water filters, which were not widely implemented, and then bio-slow filters with additions of biochar to improve the filtration process.  During the design phase of the most recent student effort, local residents made strong requests that the project include ways to make the supply of water safer.  Crocodile attacks are a major concern when collecting water from the Zambezi River.  The request was to include an analysis of filters in conjunction with a system to pump water from the river so exposure to crocodiles was reduced.  This request initiated examination of pumping platforms, filters attached to holding tanks and other ideas from the community.  Because the groundwater is near the surface, the preferred alternative was drilled boreholes in combination with bio-sand filters. 

This project has enabled students to construct artifacts with members of the community having different languages and life experiences.  This ability to truly listen and hear the perspective of the local residents allowed for cross-cultural learning and appreciation.

Dr. Bormann hopes this project will become a model for Gonzaga student projects in developing nations.  “By working with the local people in Zambia, the solutions become more effective.  Understanding their culture and situation was necessary to developing sustainable solutions.” 

Bio-sand filter Bio-sand filter
Bio-sand filters installed in 2015 functioning with appropriate water containers
Well drilling rig Well
Well drilling rig used for boreholes Well constructed in previous season, still operating
with no contamination

Shortened Elbow Rocket Stove Inlet Shortened Elbow Rocket Stove Inlet
Shortened Elbow Rocket stove
Fruit Dryer Construction Fruit Dryer Construction inlet side
Fruity dryer construction
Zambian Technology Class after training on stove and filter construction Trainee and GU students
Zambian technology class after training on stove and filter construction