Starkville, Miss. — Mississippi State University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders has completed the implementation of nine water wells in Simwatacheula, Zambia, providing sources of clean drinking water to approximately 10,000 people in rural communities.

A crowd looks on as a well is built in rural Zambia during a previous MSU Engineers Without Borders trip. Photo: Beth Wynn
A crowd looks on as a well is built in rural Zambia during a previous MSU Engineers Without Borders trip. Photo: Beth Wynn

The five-year project in Zambia was organized by MSU Engineers Without Borders with the help of contractors and non-governmental organizations. With the building phase complete, Engineers Without Borders will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the wells.

An MSU team returned to Zambia for the fourth time this summer to assist with the clean water project. The group puts an emphasis on building relationships in the communities it serves and works to ensure there is a maintenance plan in place once the construction is complete, according to Laura Wilson, a graduate student in civil engineering from Diamondhead.

“One of the big things is not just giving the community water, but helping them empower themselves,” Wilson said. “That’s another reason we like to harbor a relationship with them.”

Having a nearby source of clean water allows residents in the community to focus on other goals instead of walking long distances to get water. Some of the water sources are placed next to schools, which allows students and parents to take water home when they leave school.

“The wells don’t just provide drinking water, but allow improved production of food and establishment of herds of cattle and goats not previously possible,” faculty advisor Dennis Truax said.

Truax, who also is the James T. White Endowed Chair and department head of the Bagley College of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said the Engineers Without Borders team has helped support programs on animal husbandry, hygiene, literacy, sports and small scale commerce development.

The student organization has worked to raise money through private donors and grants. In 2015, the group beat out teams from Harvard University and Austin, Texas, to receive an $8,000 grant from the Penetron International EWB-USA Grant Award Contest.

MSU Engineers Without Borders President Phillip Keck, a junior chemistry major from Brandon, said the Zambia project will provide more sanitary sources of water for the residents of the rural communities.

“The old wells were hand-dug wells at the bottom of a basin, so you’re getting all the runoff from agriculture and livestock,” Keck said. “It’s kind of unsanitary.”

The MSU chapter’s professional partner is Bill Mitchell of Brown and Mitchell Engineering. The group works with Simwatachelua Sustainable Agriculture and Arts Program, an NGO based in the U.S.

With the Zambia project nearing completion, the group is working to determine what its next major project will be. Truax said the team left Zambia with a list of communities in which residents have asked for their help. In addition to international work, the students are active in the local community, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.

“I really enjoy reaching out to the local community,” Keck said. “They do a lot for Mississippi State, so I think it’s important to do the same for them.”

For more information on MSU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, visit For information on the national organization, visit