News Archive
September 1, 2015

South Africa Happy Hour Fundraiser

Come out and help us support the South Africa Project Team of EWB-USA as they seek to raise $40,000 to implement a clean-water project in the Bergnek Community, South Africa. The Team has designed a solution to provide the entire community with access to clean water and is raising funds for their October trip to implement this project. Your support will help us reach our funding goals and help us acheive EWB’s mission of “building a better world.”
The event will be Wednesday, September 9 from 6-9PM at Taps House of Beer located at 5120 Washington Ave. $10 at the door will get you happy hour drink specials as well as complimentary appetizers.
Come on out for a good time and a worthy cause and please help us spread the word by inviting friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, etc…Taps-HH-Flyer
Thanks and we’ll see you there!

August 9, 2015

South Africa Implementation Trip

Our South Africa team has plans to travel on their implementation trip later this fall and is seeking your support!


The team will be expanding the existing water supply system of the Bergnek Community, a village of 1500+ people who do not currently have enough water to meet their needs. Specifically, the team install a new water well pump, upgrade an existing pump, and expand the water delivery system. Our team recently received approval on our Final Design paperwork and has just completed a presentation to the national EWB representatives, going over our plan and design. From a planning and design perspective, the project is nearly 100% complete. The only thing we now lack is funds.

And that’s where we’re asking for your help! The total cost of the project will exceed $40,000, and we still have much of that to raise if we’re going to be able to reach our goal of implementing in October. While we’re currently pursuing other fundraising, such as grants and events, we’re reaching out to those in our personal and professional networks to help us with small donations. Please consider supporting our trip and helping us bring clean drinking water to the people of the Bergnek Community!

Donate directly to this project

Finally, we’re asking for your help soon because all private donations will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, but our local chapter of EWB, the Central Houston Professional Chapter! This is only for a limited time, so please donate today! Also, please help us spread the word by forwarding this to your personal contacts and sharing our post on facebook!

We greatly appreciate any and all help you can offer to our team.


The South Africa Project Team
EWB-USA Central Houston Professional Chapter

View other posts about this project



April 28, 2015

South Africa Project Update



The EWB-Bergnek Project Team and the Bergnek community are extremely grateful for your interest and support of the Bergnek Water Supply and Distribution project. My hope for this letter is to be able to give you a glimpse of our trip, the people of Bergnek, the hopes they have for their community, and our plans going forward. Our recent trip was spent discussing a path forward with community members and government officials, along with collecting data about their existing water supply and infrastructure.

As you may recall, five engineers from our chapter spent two weeks from late October to early November 2014 in Bergnek, South Africa. The purpose of our trip was to begin the process of assisting the community members in expanding their water supply. Bergnek is a small community of approximately 2,000 people in the Limpopo province of northern South Africa. Bergnek consists of land that has been given back to the “sons of the soil” (or native Africans) after the end of apartheid to generally govern under their traditional tribal structure. Most of the people are Africans who moved there after the end of apartheid from plantation-like farms or other lands they had been forced onto. The government built cinderblock houses, brought in electricity, pit latrines, and provided a basic water supply. The current water system allows for 5 to 26 liters of daily consumption per capita and is available once or twice a week for a few hours. This is less than half of the World Health Organization standard for intermediate water access. As basis of comparison, 65 liters of water are used during the average shower in the United States.

We are working with My Arms Wide Open, a non-profit organization focused on assisting the residents of Bergnek to create sustainable businesses. Without access to enough water, it is difficult for community members to focus on business opportunities. The purpose of our initial trip was to meet with the community members, indigenous tribal leaders, government officials, and My Arms Wide Open, to see if working to help the community expand their water supply would be a good fit for our team and EWB-USA’s values. Along with this, we collected data that we would need to design an expanded system. Data collection included water quality from all the current and potential water sources in the area, documentation of the existing water infrastructure, geotechnical data at key locations, and a rough survey of the community. Overall we found the project to be a good fit for us and we are currently moving forward with designing a system to expand their water supply and distribution network in phases.
The existing system runs off of 3 different wells, two equipped with diesel pumps and one with an electric pump. The community does not have enough diesel to run the pumps more than one or 2 days a week. Some days, due to rain and poor road conditions, it is not even possible to get to these pumps to start them. The existing electric pump seems to be substantially undersized and is not able to pump at a sufficient rate to satisfy WHO standards for Intermediate access.

Based on our initial findings we expect that we will likely need to change out one of the diesel pumps with an electric submersible to allow for extended use of the well regardless of weather conditions, and change out the existing electric pump with another more appropriately sized. Government estimates of the yield for each well indicate we will be able to meet the community’s supply needs solely by upgrading the pumps in the existing wells, but we are working to reevaluate the existing data to confirm this. We are also looking to expand the distribution system to ensure that each household is able to collect water from a tap within 100 meters of their home to align with the WHO standard for intermediate access. Our first contact with Bergnek came through Keith (pictured on the right with his brother and mother), a man who had spent his teenage years in the village and who currently works with My Arms Wide Open to help Bergnek develop its economy. Keith is a remarkable individual. We were completely impressed by the ability he had to move fluidly between various cultural groups, languages, and socio-economic classes, casting a vision for what Bergnek could become. Even as we work and communicate remotely, he continues to drive communication with the project’s partners and collect information we were unable to obtain during the trip.

Currently Keith lives and works in Johannesburg with his family, but often visits Bergnek with his children, as his mother and brother still live there. One night, Keith shared with us what drove him to spend so much of his time working to improve the community of Bergnek despite his full-time job at a hotel and the joys and responsibilities of being a parent. He said that as a young man he looked around Bergnek and saw there was no future for him there; there were few jobs and opportunities. At that point he moved to Johannesburg to try to establish himself. But Bergnek, and the family and friends he had there, never left his heart. Over time, he witnessed too many of the young people close to him die because they did not have the resources to even get to a doctor. Eventually it struck Keith that he could make a difference; he could advocate for his community, and be a force to make things better.

Since then Keith has spent numerous hours volunteering to better the state of his community. He recruited Warren TeBrugge, the founder of My Arms Wide Open, to work with the community to help residents start businesses and break the cycle of poverty. These efforts included starting micro businesses for producing school uniforms and the manufacturing of reusable sanitary pads so girls can stay in school. Now he has brought us in to help expand the water supply. Eventually, Keith hopes to see a fully staffed medical clinic.

Once again, thank you for your support of the EWB-Bergnek Project team and the Bergnek community. Our current hope is to complete the analysis of the existing system and the plans to expand it in time to construct at least some portion of the expansion between August and November of this year. We are working to have a preliminary plan developed in the Spring of 2015 and we will send out further updates at that time. While our volunteers contribute countless hours towards the project and often fund most of their travel out of pocket, without your help the aspirations of the community could not be realized. It is through your support that we are able to positively impact the lives of the people of Bergnek.

Thank You,
-EWB-Bergnek Project Team

February 28, 2015

South Africa Travel Blog Part II by Joe Schwiterman

See here for Part 1 of Joe’s travel blog


After our initial field work, we began developing initial solutions based on our observations of how the community pumps, stores and distributes water, keeping in mind that ‘This is Africa’ and theft is a real problem. The efficiency of the process could be improved by sizing the pumps and running them appropriately for the recharge of the wells. Only half the diesel purchased is used to run the pump east of town because the other half must be resold to pay for its delivery. We would suggest converting this well to an electric/solar powered motor, the cost of running would be paid by the municipality. The abandoned well could be tested and restored to provide additional water keeping the storage tanks better supplied. It may be necessary to improve the taps along the distribution main, which break easily, causing leaks and loss of water.

The field work required a lot of walking outside, which also provided an opportunity to talk with members of the community and learn a bit more of their daily lives and struggles. We met a lot of motivated people trying to create opportunity in hopes of a brighter future. They would invite us into their homes to show us some of the projects they were doing to support their family. These included weaving, gardening, ceramics, carving wood posts and cutting wire for fencing and construction products. They showed a lot of pride in their work, which was very impressive. ‘This is Africa’ so we heard a lot of organic sounds from barking dogs lying out in the sun, baying goats, crowing roosters, cowbells ringing in the fields, tromping of donkey feet and laughter of kids playing and running around the streets usually barefoot, sometimes wearing sandals. The kids would stop their fun and games and run up to us sometimes following us around town for kilometers. They enjoyed being swung around and picked up into the air. We got to perfect the ‘Bergnek handshake’ and take many pictures, so they could see themselves on the camera screen.


We arranged with the headman of the school for an opportunity to speak with the 8th grade students. First we introduced ourselves, which included a geography lesson to explain where we’re from. We made sure to enforce the importance of education and the role it had in our careers, which led us here to help the community get more water. They agreed and understood all of this. Next we engaged the students through a lesson that covered the water cycle, sources of water and its uses, water tests and quality. They knew a lot about these topics, learning a bit more about the properties and processes used for testing the quality of water. After the hour lesson, we entertained them for the next half hour, which was a cultural lesson for us all. On the topic of sports, we tried explaining American football and baseball and asked them about the 2010 South Africa World Cup and Rugby but we learned that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is more popular. Many of the students speak multiple languages, Sepedi, English, Afrikaans and some other tribal tongues, so we taught them a couple phrases in Spanish and German. We eventually got on the subject of dance and music, so we busted a few moves in front of class to the thrill of the students. They started singing the national anthem in beautiful voices but got a bit too loud, prompting the headman to come over and dismiss the class.


Our final days were spent meeting with local groups in the area to build relationships and gather information. These groups included My Arms Wide Open, the Polokwane Rotary and Engineers without Borders chapter at Wits University. We also met with the mayor and community chief to sign partnership agreements as a formal approval to continue with our proposed work in Bergnek. We had a meeting in Bergnek, in which Travis spoke some Sepedi to thank the community for their kind hospitality and let them know this would not be a final farewell that we plan on returning in ten months to implement the project. Back home we are analyzing the information to design improvements to Bergnek’s water supply and distribution while raising money for equipment and supplies.


Thanks for reading our travel blog. Our team will now focus on developing and raising funds for our implementation project that we plan to complete in August 2015. Stay tuned for more updates and contact us if you would like to get involved or support our project!

February 12, 2015

South Africa Happy Hour Fundraiser

Come out and support our South Africa Project Team as they seek to raise $50,000 to implement their clean water project in the Bergnek Community. The team just returned from a data-gathering trip to Bergnek and is currently developing the solution they plan to implement in August of this year.
The event will be February 26th from 7-10PM at 3rd Floor​ Bar in Midtown. $5 at the door will get you happy hour drink specials and well as complimentary appetizers.
Come on out for a good time and a worthy cause and please help us spread the word by inviting friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, etc…
Thanks and we’ll see you there!


January 31, 2015

South Africa Travel Blog Part 1 by Joe Schwieterman

EWB Assessment Trip to Bergnek


Our assessment team for the Bergnek Water Expansion Project was an interesting group of five persons with varying ages and experience. This helped us ask all the necessary questions and leave with a lot of answers to proceed with design. The length of trip was just short of 2 weeks, which was ideal to accomplishing all the tasks as well as having a little down time. Travis was our fearless leader, managing our agenda and coordinating meetings. He is a recent graduate from Texas A&M Chemical Engineering program, currently employed at DOW Chemical. Rich and Mike are giving back after retiring from their fruitful careers, having previously volunteered together on an EWB project in Bolivia. Mike provided a wealth of experience and knowledge in civil engineering and surveying, which is invaluable for this project. Rich is a retired engineer from the Oil and Gas Industry and volunteered as our safety captain and master scheduler. Little did we expect to need use of the First Aid Kit until after the first night when Mike accidently hit his head. Brandon received his Masters from Rice University during which time he became involved with the EWB Houston Professional Chapter and remains a member from Seattle where he works on environmental remediation projects, so he led the experiments for soil and water quality testing. Joe joined the group midway through his round-the-world trip, helping provide extra leg work and hands.

Our guide and community local, Keith met us at Johannesburg to welcome us to South Africa. We rented a car, then started our 4 hour drive to Bergnek. The community has an approximate population of 3,000 residents, nestled in the highlands of the Limpopo District located about one hour south of Polokwane. Thankfully Keith was with us to help navigate because numerous times our GPS navigation system told us to exit and turn onto a road that did not exist. ‘This is Africa’ became a phrase we used to make light of such blunders.


Once we arrived, our first agenda item was to meet with the Elders, but it did not happen as planned. The meeting was announced by ringing a gong under a shade tree a few hours later than scheduled and it turned into a spotlight event with the entire community present – ‘This is Africa’.   The meeting was successful despite the brief chaos of reorganizing ourselves. Most of the community members had some background in English but Keith would translate to Sepedi to make clear our message. Travis introduced us and what we hoped to accomplish during our two weeks in their community. We asked those present to provide feedback on their concerns and what future developments they would like to see in Bergnek. Many had been displaced outside the city to live here, others moved here to work in diamond mines and the construction of a solar power plant. These projects, however, are no longer ongoing making employment the common concern. The few jobs available are farming and road construction for which workers are picked up in the morning to be driven out to the worksites.

A typical day started with a bit of exercise at sunrise. We would discuss our plan of action for the day and split into teams. For dinner, Joe even got experimental in the kitchen, which is where he strung up his hammock to sleep at night. He prepared beet root avocado wraps, ‘Bergnek surprise’, ‘Joe Juice’, cheesy pap and fruity papjacks. Peter, a resident with his own private well, invited us to use the showers at his house. He also organized a small gathering for a typical South African Braii. We would unwind at night making note of new discoveries from the day while enjoying a glass of wine or beer and once Amarula shots, a cream liquor.


Field work involved gathering data points and GPS coordinates to identify important landmarks on an aerial map that Mike had printed and brought along. We visited the different well sites and observed how they were pumped. Water was once drawn from a well in the center of town using a mechanical hand pump, whose iron pipes and fittings used in this well oxidized with the water and stained teeth. Now a diesel motor is towed along a dirt road to a well located east of town along the banks of a creek. This well is the primary source of water for the community pumping up to six 10,000 liter elevated green drums in the center of town. A second well, located west of town across the highway is pumped using an electrical control system to an elevated rectangular tank on the school grounds. A third well is located south of town but has been abandoned. An underground piping system, operating by gravity under the head of the elevated tanks, runs along the town streets with taps rising at various locations. Families leave their empty 20 liter jerry cans around the taps to reserve their place in line for the one time a week when the water is distributed. The amount of water distributed is far less than the World Health Organization’s standards. If a family runs out of water they must purchase from an outside vendor or ask neighbors such as Pete who has a pump on a private well.

This concludes part 2 of the South Africa Assessment Trip Travel Blog. Stay tuned for Part 2…

June 26, 2014

Project Blogs

Now that our new website has been up and running for a few months, we’re excited to announce that we’ll be expanding how we use it a little bit. This first expansion will see us rolling out blogs for all of our different projects. We’ve got several active projects right now and four of those have active plans to travel this year! These are exciting times for our chapter, so check our news page for updates on all of the different projects or go to the individual project pages to see them filtered by project.