Local man changes lives in Panama with Engineers Without Borders

BEDFORD – James Macpherson, a structural engineer with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. in Bedford, recently spent a week stationed in Hato Rincon – a remote mountain community in Western Panama that is home to the indigenous Ngobe-Bugle people, as part of a program led by Engineers Without Borders. The group is a nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for impoverished, developing communities worldwide. During Macpherson’s trip, he was responsible for beginning project construction for a computer center and library.

Hato Rincon suffers from a lack of basic hygienic and infrastructure needs, including fresh water, sanitation and proper educational facilities. The community has been working toward developing a local computer center and library as a means to improve education and achieve a higher standard of living for its people. A goal of this project is to provide the Ngobe-Bugle access to technology to document their culture and language. The computer center is instrumental to this, and it will also allow the community better access to healthcare information and government services.

“It was absolutely incredible to be a part of this important project,” said Macpherson. “The volunteers from the community and I only shared a few common words, but it was amazing how much could be accomplished with teamwork, dedication and a shared goal.”

For the past three years, Engineers Without Borders has supported this effort. As part of the group’s initiative CREER, engineers have helped local volunteers finish developmental phases of the project, completing initial assessment, feasibility and design for the new facilities. Macpherson’s efforts on site included digging trenches, gathering aggregate for concrete, laying rebar and pouring concrete. Specifically, he was responsible for helping manage construction tasks and organizing labor efforts.

“Being able to assist with, and teach the community how to properly construct the building was a humbling and rewarding experience,” said MacPherson. “It was fun having to engineer ‘primitive’ solutions to various construction challenges with limited resources and no phone/Internet access – it was a very different world from what I’m used to at VHB.”

Learn more about Engineers Without Borders at www.ewb-usa.org/.

– Submitted by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. Bedford