By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
Earlier this summer former Imperial resident Matt Pirog found himself a long way from his classes in Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Actually, he was in a rural village eight hours from the capitol city in Madagascar, Antananarivo.
And, he was helping village residents receive clean, healthy water.
The Republic of Madagascar is an island country in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. Madagascar consists of a large island and several smaller peripheral islands.
Pirog, a 2004 Chase County High School graduate, was one of a group of students on the May 19-June 13 trip for Engineers Without Borders.
That is a national organization, and Pirog has been a member of a student chapter since 2010.
This was the third trip for the chapter, but Pirog’s first, to the chapter’s partner community of Kianjavato. The Omaha Zoo, part of Henry Doorly Zoo, has established a field research station in the rain forest just outside the village.
The village has no electricity or running water, unlike the capitol city.
Pirog explained that the Engineers Without Borders project needed the Omaha Zoo as a host organization, in order to work in Madagascar.
The Omaha Zoo, he said, has manned the research station for 10 years, helping with reforestation and research on lemurs.
The Engineers Without Borders project is two-fold—to help develop solar power and increase access to clean drinking water.
Pirog’s group was concerned with the water project. Students researched water filter designs online, then chose one that is “used in a lot of developing countries because of its simplicity. We had to test the design for what is best for our application,” he pointed out.
The design for a water filter system consists of sand, gravel, concrete and PVC pipe, Pirog said. “It’s a simple structure and the materials are available” in the area.
The bio sand filter is a four-foot cylinder that removes 99 percent of the pathogens, 70 percent of the viruses and the suspended solids, Pirog said.
Although the biggest sickness in the area is malaria, intestinal illnesses such as schistosomiasis are a common problem, caused by dirty water.
Pirog said schistosomiasis is usually not fatal, but causes diarrhea and vomiting. “Chronic exposure leads to organ damage.” he noted.
The intestinal parasites come from the nearby river, which “the people use as a bathroom.” The water is then used for drinking, but the parasites can be introduced through the skin pores, too, Pirog stated.
The student group built the filters, which are for household-size filtration, and placed them in schools.
They also hosted a workshop where 20 participants such as teachers and community leaders learned about the filters—how to build and maintain them.
Of satisfaction to Pirog was also teaching why the water is contaminated. “We don’t want to just give them filters,” he explained. Those who learn to make them can also turn their knowledge into a business for income.
A student group will return to Madagascar in November to follow up on the project.
Pirog said another trip planned for next summer will address rainwater collection utilizing existing gutter systems at schools.
There’s also a project planned to cut down on pollution in streams and rivers, he said.
Pirog, the son of Linda and Jim Pirog of Imperial, is entering his senior year as a Biological Systems Engineering degree candidate. He also has a degree in business administration with an accounting emphasis.
In the future he would like to help people like the ones he met on his trip.
“There’s a lot of places in the world that don’t have a fraction of what we have. I would like to bring something as simple as clean drinking water” to them.