local villagers helped the students with the construction
of the health clinic, which will serve up to 14 surrounding
villages in the Samil area.
When it comes to
engineering, volunteerism has no borders. Sixteen engineering
students from university chapters of Engineers Without Borders-USA
demonstrated this when they dedicated their time and effort
to design and build a health care facility to serve hill tribes
in Samli, Thailand.
Members of Columbia University
EWB chapter traveled to mountainous northern Thailand in May
to begin construction of the medical facility. The work was
finished in July by the University of California-Los Angeles
and University of Maryland-College Park EWB chapters.
EWB, a humanitarian nongovernmental
organization, gives students the opportunity to apply engineering
skills through hands-on projects that benefit people in developing
areas. "One of the most important purposes is working
in conjunction with developing countries and training a new
generation of globally-aware engineers," says Andrea
Stancliff, vice president of EWB-USA's West Coast Professional
The Columbia University Engineers Without Borders chapter
finished the framing, roofing and siding of the health
clinic in Samli, Thailand.
Students from Columbia University
and UCLA began tackling the Samli project in January 2004
by designing with the use of AutoCAD software the basic structure
and floor plan of the 1,800-sq-ft clinic. The University of
Maryland students joined the Samli project in April, hoping
to gain experience for future chapter projects and to provide
an extra manual labor force during construction, says Michelle
Neukirchen, a civil engineering major.
Prior to the construction of the
clinic, travel time for a medical visit into town could take
a week. Centrally located to serve 14 villages, the clinic
has a waiting area, an exam room for regular visits and an
emergency room. There are also living quarters for doctors,
which will be provided by the Thailand government. Available
services at the clinic include immunizations, pre- and post-natal
care and blood tests.
Richard Herring, a Samli project
mentor and member of the EWB-USA board, helped raise $21,500
for all of the project materials. Students paid for their
own travel through fundraisers including raffles and cookie
A complete hands-on project, the health clinic was designed
and built by student and professional engineers and local
When summer rolled around and the
design phase was completed, the students rolled up their sleeves
and began the hammering and sawing. The students worked with
every aspect of construction, including framing, roofing,
electrical wiring and installing a wastewater treatment system,
which the University of Maryland designed. "We were the
brains behind the project as well as the brawn behind it,"
says Columbia University's Zafeer Baber, a senior biomedical
Work days began for the students
as soon as the sun rose above the horizon. Local villagers
helped with construction throughout the day. "You learn
to speak in what I call international sign language,"
says Baber. "Even though we couldn't joke around with
each other because of the language barrier, there are ways
to show that you appreciate the experience they are giving
The experience enabled the students
to see their design come to life. "A lot of time engineers
see in two-dimension," says Columbia University's Ambika
Rose, project manager. "When you personally put it on
paper, revise it and go onto the field, you see all of the
details. Being able to do the whole process, it improved my
ability to visualize in three-dimension."
Students also dealt with unexpected
frustrations, such as specifications changing and torrential
of monsoon season rains. "There were a lot of changes
that kept happening," says Stancliff, a professional
engineer who served as a mentor to the Columbia University
students in Thailand. "Being a professional in this field,
that is status quo. They had to learn to be flexible."
(Photos courtesy of Joni