In Colombia, where 53.51% of rural population has problems associated to unsatisfied basic needs (DANE 2010), engineers and engineering have the opportunity to promote the development of rural communities. Chief among these problems is the lack of safe water in rural communities, which often leads to high impact diseases such as Malaria, Vivax and other related problems (Defensoría del Pueblo 2009). Furthermore, this situation affects a large number of people, since in rural areas in Colombia, where 24.02% of the total population lives (DANE 2010), average water supply coverage is at 53.5% and average sewerage system coverage is only at 26.1%; these numbers are significantly lower than the average coverage in urban areas, which are 89.9 and 78.5% respectively (Defensoría del Pueblo 2009).
Highlighting the problem context described above and having shown the complexity of the water access problem due to pluralistic interests and multiple situation variables, the Universidad de los Andes (http://www.uniandes.edu.co/) and the Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios (http://www.uniminuto.edu/) created Ingenieros Sin Fronteras Colombia [ISF-COL] (https://isfcolombia.uniandes.edu.co/) under the academic partnership between the two institutions. The objective of the group is contribute to improve the social problems in rural areas by involving all of the stakeholders throughout the process, applying knowledge from different engineering branches (civil, environmental, chemical, industrial and mechanical) and working together with the members of the community to identify concrete social issues and design engineering solutions tailored to the community’s specific needs.
ISF-COL has proposed those principles to guide the construction process of proposed solutions:
- The ISF-COL projects are done WITH the community and jointly with state institutions. Encouraging and empowering these communities to solve their own problems.
- ISF-COL is an educational project: the main actor in projects are the students, since one of the purposes of the project is to train professional engineers who are aware of the social reality of country, and particularly vulnerable communities. Anywhere they play their profession, they will be able to actively contribute to the development of these communities.
- ISF-COL proposes solutions that are technically feasible and culturally appropriate. The selected technologies as well as the working model for university-community-state are equally important.
- ISF-COL is an applied research project: research, implementation and monitoring of our activities develop from a structured methodology.
- ISF-COL starts doing small actions in order to show results, learn from experience and then proceed to reach a greater impact.
- ISF-COL investigates, promotes and performs actions for the consolidation of a network of inter-institutional cooperation, either with the state, universities, private companies and other actors to support or supplement the team's work.
- Sustainability: ISF-COL seeks to innovate in the way ensuring the sustainability of its interventions, particularly looking for inclusive business training that will: improve the material conditions of the beneficiary community, generate new income and employment opportunities and replicate solutions implemented in order to generate a greater impact.
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