SAN FRANCISCO-- The word "Nepal" may likely conjure up visions of the stunning Himalayas for most. Yet beyond majestic Mount Everest, many residents in the rural areas of Nepal lack basic services including clean water, electricity, roads, and telecommunication systems. Benjamin Snyder, a senior hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District, is set to embark on a mission to improve conditions in one such village.
Basa is a community located in northeastern Nepal where approximately 450 people live with no indoor plumbing. Each day, villagers journey to the river or a local spring to access water for drinking and washing. Snyder wants to build a sustainable filtered drinking water system, hand washing stations, and provide sanitation education so that residents of Basa can lead healthier and happier lives. In mid-September, Snyder, who was awarded the 2011 Engineer of the Year Award for the San Francisco District, will travel to Basa to launch the initial phase of the project.
"With engineering, you have the potential to do so much good in the world," Snyder said.
Snyder had long been thinking about different ways he could use his expertise to push forward a grassroots humanitarian aid project, he said. This summer, he used social networking sites to connect with other likeminded people. Snyder is collaborating with the Basa Village Foundation -- USA, an agency that seeks to improve conditions in Basa, including the construction of a system that will deliver water to an external spigot at each home in Basa for drinking, cooking, and washing. Homes there do not have toilets. A water system will make it possible to install toilets in the future and improve health and sanitation, according to the foundation.
Snyder is the first government employee who has volunteered for foundation, said Jeff Rasley, Basa Village Foundation President. Rasley said engineering, educational, medical, and agricultural expertise from volunteers is what the foundation has needed and received. Rasley explained that foundation bylaws require that all financial contributions go entirely to the direct costs for the projects the foundation supports.
"We don't pay or reimburse volunteers for their travel costs. Thus, what is very important for our volunteer experts is that they are able to support themselves, if they travel to Nepal," said Rasley.
With food, lodging, and transportation costs for Snyder's initial three-week volunteer mission costing approximately $3,000, Snyder reached out to family and friends to see if they might be interested in pitching in. After seeing his post on a social networking site, one of Snyder's friends connected him with a San Francisco-based non-profit called ReAllocate. Through his affiliation with ReAllocate, Snyder has been able to access donations to help offset the cost of the trip. Snyder is taking annual leave (vacation days) and leave without pay to serve in Basa.
"Ben will be using his skills to improve the lives of others, which is part of what inspired many of us to become engineers," said Lyn Gillespie, chief of Engineering and Technical Services Division for the San Francisco District. "He has also shown great initiative in arranging funding for some of his plans, exhibiting the ability to follow a plan through to its conclusion."
Snyder holds a master's degree in civil engineering with a focus on open channel hydraulics and in his role as a senior hydraulic engineer at the San Francisco District, he specializes in river modeling to support flood risk reduction and habitat restoration.
"No matter where we are in our careers, there is always the opportunity to learn more and do more," said Gillespie. "Ben will learn new ways of looking at problems and new ways of thinking that may expand his horizons and make him a more resilient and focused leader in the future."
While in Basa, Snyder will complete a detailed survey of the village, homes and the water source and will conceptualize an efficient, effective, and sustainable design for the water filtration and sanitation system. He wants to get to know the locals and make sure they are included in the process from the very start of operations.
"I need to identify potential construction supervisors, assess how the proposed system will integrate with (the locals') culture…and visit successful water and sanitation projects at similar villages. Armed with that information, I'll help the local people come up with a sustainable design."
For more information about the water for Basa project see http://www.indiegogo.com/water-for-basa-nepal