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Auburn students help Bolivians with irrigation

Associated Press Modified: September 17, 2012 at 10:17 am •  Published: September 17, 2012

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Travis Bugg went to Bolivia to serve the people of Quesimpuco, but he can't help but feel like they helped him just as much.

Bugg, a civil engineering major at Auburn University, was one of a handful of Auburn engineering students to travel to Quesimpuco in August to help devise irrigation solutions for the arid community in the Bolivian mountains.

"Yes, my fellow engineering students and I helped them out in one way or another, but they really helped me out in showing me a lot about life and what is really important," said Bugg, a 23-year-old from Murfreesboro, Tenn. "So for me, that's the most gratifying aspect of the trip."

Because of the scarcity of water in Quesimpuco, the students worked on a gravity-fed irrigation system and a hydroponics demonstration unit to help improve the community's agricultural resources with the water available at the time.

Steve Duke, the students' team leader and a professor of chemical engineering at Auburn University, said the work in Bolivia combines service learning with international experience for those who choose to be part of the engineering student organization. He said the organization was started about four years ago and has made three trips to Quesimpuco so far.

Starting the partnership in Bolivia was made easier by the connections Auburn University and Auburn United Methodist Church have made through Servants in Faith and Technology, which has done similar service work in Quesimpuco, Duke said.

"We're very welcomed there because there's already been 15-20 years of similar activities, just not in the engineering area," he said.

Outside of the service work, Duke said the trip offers students firsthand experience in assessing the needs of a project and working with the local people all the way to completion.

Duke said students that become involved in the project work for at least eight months prior to the trip and meet weekly. The students have to pay their own way on the trip and don't receive class credit.

Bugg, who is the team leader for the irrigation system, said the project allowed him to apply knowledge he learned in the classroom to help with the irrigation system.

"For the irrigation team, we primarily did a great deal of surveying," he said. "So a lot of the concepts I learned from my surveying class I actually applied on the trip. Since the trip, we are now designing the irrigation system. So I am having to use a lot of the concepts that I learned in my hydraulics class."

Once the system is implemented, it will help irrigate 40 acres of farmland. Bugg said the yield on crops in Quesimpuco is not very high and food scarcity is a real concern.

The community is in the Andean region of central Bolivia.