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Cain Working in Nicaragua to Implement Clean Water

“Engineering is not just going out, working hours and getting paid. There’s a service opportunity available, too, that many young engineering students haven’t considered,” said Michael Cain. That is where Engineers Without Borders comes in.Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is an organization with a mission to collaborate with local partners in the developing world to design and implement sustainable engineering projects.

Michael Cain and Chris Carlsten are two Clemson graduates who dedicate their time to the EWB professional chapter in Charleston. Cain and Carlsten met around 2002 through their work as city and county engineers. Recently, they began work in Nicaragua to implement a clean water source for the community, and more specifically a local clinic, the Roberto Clemente Health Clinic in Limon.

Cain ’91 studied civil engineering and has been interested in service his entire life from Boy Scouts to volunteer projects as a Clemson student, to now a member of EWB. Cain has worked for Hussey, Gay, Bell and De Young for the past five years as a site design engineer. Carlsten ’96 graduated with a degree in agricultural engineering. For Carlsten, studying at Clemson was very helpful.

“Clemson’s engineering program is a little different. You gain important elements of real world experience,” Carlsten said. Carlsten has been working for Trans Systems for the last six years as a roadway civil engineer project manager.

The Charleston EWB professional chapter was formed in March 2009. Cain was elected president. Carlsten was elected treasurer. EWB has one simple mission: All people should have access to basic human needs. As a chapter of EWB, there is a partnership between the engineers and the community.

“We work with them,” Cain said. “The community commits to labor, some money and operating costs. This is not a charity, but a development partnership.”

The specific project Cain and Carlsten are a part of involves providing clean, safe-to-drink water to the community, including the Roberto Clemente Health Clinic. The clinic provides health services for 26 communities with over 9,000 patients coming through each year. Only one doctor is staffed with several volunteers. The clinic and members of the community currently receive water from hand-dug wells that are 13-25 feet deep and 3 feet in diameter. The wells are subject to the contamination of fecal coliform and other pollutants due to surface water inflow.

“The people of the community know better, but they do not have a choice,” Cain said.

The problem is lack of finances to afford healthy water. Cain and Carlsten aim for a new water service that will be pay-per-use with a person staffed to run the water system. There will also be meters to account for the usage. Carlsten is also interested in using real-time health data to monitor water-borne disease.

“We hope that by providing fresh water, these diseases will decrease,” Carlsten said.

Cain and Carlsten made one trip to the community in September 2011. The chapter’s design committee is currently developing the project plans, and the chapter hopes to gather enough funding to return this summer to begin construction. They also hope to one day replicate the water treatment systems in many other local villages.

In their free time, both Cain and Carlsten enjoy spending time with their families. Cain and wife Elizabeth Ferrara ’91 have two sons, ages 9 and 12. His boys are avid Clemson fans and enjoy the games. Carlsten has 6-year-old twin daughters. Both girls are loyal to Clemson, and both love to wear their orange and purple.