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Our engineering students design water system in Papua New Guinea

February 10, 2014, 3:38 pm
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Charred chicken, warm but not hot, covered in peanut butter with a hint of salt.

Ryan Lofthouse, NNU senior mechanical engineering major and team leader for this year’s senior design project, knows the taste of a three-inch-long banana spider, and now, so do you. Native to the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), the spider is named for its color and shape. After a connoisseur gets past the bright yellow, spindly legs, the spider can be a filling part of a meal, but Ryan was happy to keep this exotic morsel as an appetizer.

As engineering majors, quantifying and measuring comes second nature to the three NNU students who traveled to Kudjip, PNG during their Christmas break. During the two weeks abroad, the students spent their days with various apparatuses and instruments, but their intangible experiences taught what is hard to articulate in a classroom. The students learned that no matter the project or employer, good engineering meets human needs.

The goal for the two-week venture to PNG, an island nation just north of Australia, was to gather data needed to design a new water system for the Kudjip Nazarene Hospital and surrounding campus.

The Kudjip Nazarene Hospital, founded in 1967, is a hub for medical access and training in the underserved highlands of PNG. The hospital is equipped to perform all basic health services and a range of major procedures for inpatients and outpatients. The 185-acre campus uses 80,000 gallons of water in a normal day of operations. A patchwork of tangled systems provides water for the hospital, school and staff housing, but none of the methods adequately meet the increasing needs of the medical center that serves over 50,000 patients a year.

To address a growing list of health and safety concerns, the hospital asked NNU Professor of Electrical Engineering Dr. Stephen Parke if the school could offer any assistance. December 2012, a team of NNU students visited Kudjip to survey the campus for a 10-year master building plan that included a hydroelectric dam. That dam is already under construction, and the quality of work done by the students made NNU the hospital’s top choice to take on this new project.

The team measured pipe size and water pressure in the hospital buildings. They located and mapped the main lines that carry water across the campus. They assessed the amount of power available in the region and surveyed possible locations for a new water tower. They brainstormed ways to limit the need for steel, which is almost impossible to purchase in the highlands.

During all this technical work, they also took time to get to know the people.

There are over 800 unique cultures in PNG, but all dress is bright colors, welcome visitors with extravagant meals and love to smile for the camera. And they sing. Bush churches filled with praise and worship. “Mi laik praisim nem bilong yu.” Translated from the island’s lingua franca, Tok Pisin, this chorus boisterously declares, “I like to praise Your Holy Name.” Sermons are heated and passionate; the visiting students felt the energy, even if they didn’t understand the words.

This deep passion hints at another cultural identity. The people of PNG have earned a violent reputation and not without reason. The Kudjip Hospital treats many violent injuries caused by clubs and machetes. The U.S. Department of State continually warns travelers to stay away from rural areas and the deep forest, as skirmishes between warring clans are common.

Krystal Duran, a freshman mechanical engineering major from Kenai, Alaska, tells about her encounter with a man reputed for violence and misdeeds. Appa, a native New Guinean, met with Krystal and Ryan during a forest hike to Suicide Falls, a beautiful but aptly named cliff overlooking treacherous white water. As they walked, Appa began recounting his well-earned reputation. He was known as a thug, a murderer, a thief for hire. He has a powerful, formidable presence. Appa continues his story. One day he was walking and fell into a river. At the bottom of the current, certain he was about to drown, he prayed his first prayer. He prayed for salvation from the river and for his soul.

Appa is a native pastor who leads a church in the bush. He recently finished Bible college and is a leader in the community. “You could see his passion for the Lord in every movement. Every other sentence he praised Jesus,” said Krystal. The hospital has cared for members of Appa’s congregation and will be better able to continue their service with a stable water source.

Inside the hospital campus sits an old man. The students saw him every day; his name is Gideon. Gideon would look worn and haggard if it wasn’t for his smile. For 33 years he has smiled to missionaries, visitors and every NNU student who has visited the hospital. He makes his living decorating wooden tool handles and bamboo. He takes hot embers and by hand engraves intricate designs. He makes handles for machetes—tools  for both farming and violence—look delicate and beautiful. Gideon tells stories while he works; he says making a living from his art is only possible through the hospital. Decades ago his brother brought samples of his work to the hospital, and there has been steady business since.

Why do NNU students travel around the world, at their own expense, to do a design project that won’t make a profit? “There is a difference between looking at a map of the campus and being there in person,” said senior electrical engineering major Seth Leija of Boise, Idaho. “On a map we saw an empty field; in person we saw where the staff and students gather to play rugby. We couldn’t just lay a pipe through there; we had to find another option.”

All the data is collected and stored on computer hard drives as well as in their memories. This semester, back on the NNU campus, the team will analyze the data and design a comprehensive water system that will meet the long-term needs of the Kudjip Nazarene Hospital and the people who benefit from it. The proposal will then be sent to the hospital, completely free of any design charges. Construction of the new well and water tower is expected to begin next year after the hydroelectric dam is ready to power the system. These engineers will be well prepared to improve the lives of whomever they touch next.

PHOTO CAP: The 2014 NNU Engineering Senior Design Project travel members. Top left to right: Ryan Lofthouse (Maupin, Ore.) and Kyle Kaschmitter (Nampa). Bottom left to right: Dr. Stephen Parke (Nampa), Chelsie Kaschmitter (Nampa), Krystal Duran (Kenai, Alaska) and Seth Leija (Boise).


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