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Dana Fredericks '12

Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Helps Create Arable Land at 13,700 Feet

Dana Fredericks is the president of W&L's Engineers Without Borders club, which is working to improve the lives of villagers in Pampoyo, Bolivia, by providing more arable land for farming. She applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to visit Pampoyo for two weeks this summer to lay the groundwork for the project.


I awoke this morning at 6:00 AM to the sound of dynamite in honor of the 6th of August--Bolivia's celebration of their Independence from Spanish dominion. Today we would work hard during the day and experience a cultural celebration in the evening.

Around 7:30 a.m., I slide out of my two sleeping bags in wool socks, long pajamas, multiple shirts, a sweatshirt and a hat. It is winter in Pampoyo, Bolivia. The cement school house where we sleep on hay mats does little to keep out the cold. I quickly change into my one pair of jeans and help the team to gather the tools we will need today. After a quick breakfast of bread and oatmeal, we are off to the worksite.

Pampoyo is located at an elevation of 11,800 feet, and the worksite is at roughly 13,700 feet. At such a high altitude, the three-mile walk to the site quickly takes your breath away. Pampoyo has miles of mountains, some higher than 15,000 feet. Once at the site, we set to work with the men and women of the community at our side. Today we are constructing the dam. We already have the wood mold and the steel rebar in place; next comes the mixing and pouring of the cement. This whole dam must be poured before noon so that it has time to set before nightfall when it runs the risk of freezing. After pouring the dam, we worked on digging a trench. Traversing the terrain is no easy task. We have marked the entire 2,000 foot path along which we will dig trenches and lay pipe in Phase 1. We dig a foot and a half into the ground to prevent freezing through the sand, soil and rock. Once we complete portions of the trench, we carry huge rolls of polyethylene pipe to the site. This pipe is then laid in the trenches and fastened together using couplings, a sealant paste and Teflon tape. After performing this process several times, we explain how to connect and mend pipe to the four villagers of Pampoyo with the title of "Water Committee." Together, our team and the community work efficiently until 4:00 PM when it begins to get cold again. It is now time to return to the community.

With some time before dinner, we venture out to meet more of the people in the community. We begin with Margarita's house, where she is baking bread. Margarita has seven children, four of whom have gone to school to become either nurses or teachers. With her children away from home, she is working to start the first bread baking business in Pampoyo. She invited us over to watch as she proceeded to bake hundreds of pieces of bread in a clay oven. Cold from the cool evening, the freshly baked bread quickly warmed us--we bought over twenty pieces from her!

Next, we went to Victoria's house, where she was working on peeling chuño. Chuño is a kind of potato that goes through a five-day process of being frozen during the night, left in the sunlight, walked on, and then finally peeled. She invited us in to help her peel the juicy chuño. We soon found that if you were not careful, you would find yourself squirting juices on the person at your side. I fell victim to this attack on multiple occasions. It was great fun! Later, during our dinner, we experienced the generosity of the people of Pampoyo when the woman brought us the chuño we peeled to have for dinner. They were delicious.

After an early dinner, the festivities began with the singing of the Bolivian national anthem and a parade through the town lit by lanterns to pick up the remaining members of the community. The parade procession ended in the school yard, where we sang once again and were entertained by comical acts performed by the children. Once these were through, it was time to dance! A small band stood in a circle playing enthusiastically while we ran/danced around them. I made many friends in the town and had a blast running around the band, arm-in-arm with them. Although I went to bed around 10:00 pm, the festivities continued through the night.