Walk of Faith: Camino de Santiago, Spain

Before beginning this alluring journey to walk on the sacred path towards God, I had various concerns regarding how the journey would be like? Being a solo traveler, what kind of people would I meet? With just a handful of words from Spanish vocabulary, how would I communicate with the local community? Even though I expected my whole journey to unravel beautifully at different instances, I couldn’t stop asking myself these questions. After finishing my journey, I can positively say that it has been one of the best trips I have had so far, and, one day, I am definitely going back to walk on the path of Camino de Santiago again.

El Camino de Santiago, in English is called ‘The Way of St. James’. It is a 100-year-old ritual. It is believed that the body of St. James, the Apostle was discovered by a shepherd in a field in Galicia in 9th century. The name of the route comes from the St. James’ name Camino de Santiago meaning Walk of St. James.

My curiosity to explore the journey began with my research on the walking pilgrimages of India. After studying the sacred landscapes in India, I wanted to experience Western pilgrimages, specifically Europe and build a study of contrast and similarities between the pilgrimages of both the continents. Camino de Santiago was on the top of my list because of its worldwide popularity and enriching walking experiences as described by pilgrims.

I attempted to walk the last 120 kms of the pilgrimage, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. I reached Santiago by a flight and then took a bus that took about 4 hours to reach Sarria. It is a picturesque village in the arms of Galician mountain range. I stayed at a small Albergue that was 5 min walk from the Cathedral. After lunch and a stroll in the village square, I decided to attend the evening mass in the cathedral. The whole mass was in Spanish and everyone around me in the Cathedral seemed to be in their 40s-50s. Though I don’t understand Spanish at all except “Hola!” and “Gracias!”, it was quite captivating and the aura of the place felt quite spiritual. My objective was also to talk to as many people as I could and learn about their journey, intentions of this pilgrimage and how did walking through these sacred landscapes evolve and affect them. I met a 25 year old man from France, named Florlan Ernesto, who had begun from France and been walking for 10 days to reach Santiago. He mentioned that this was his second time coming for this journey and that he was quite close to his deceased mother who had been doing it for about 50 years. He wanted to continue her tradition as a legacy and thus had started to walk on the pilgrimage a year ago. He also was a godfather to his son’s daughter and wanted to pray for her well-being that had inspired him to walk on this journey.

The next day, I stepped out of the Albergue with confusions as to how to move forward in the journey. The warden of the Albergue told me that the yellow arrows, scallop shell and a couple of other symbols mark the clear legibility on the way and GPS or any map is not required to reach the next destination which was a village named Portomarin. The scenic path towards Portomarin was through a dense forest, rolling grasslands with beautiful mountains around and meandering roads. I met a German woman, Wiebke, who must have been in her early forties. After introducing myself, I couldn’t stop myself but ask her about her reasons for doing the walk. She mentioned that her friend had done it a couple of years ago on the route that goes right outside her house in her hometown. She had seen the movie “The Way” and was also reading about personal experience of a man who had done the walk. This all inspired her a great deal that motivated her to give it a try. She had a family in Germany but she decided to walk by herself. She was a lovely companion. The journey was also made interesting by a group of young Spanish men I came across while walking, and who were singing lovely Spanish songs.

Portomarin is a beautiful village on a hill near the river Minho, 15 miles from Sarria. After walking for 15 miles, I was exhausted and drained with energy but the approaching view of Portomarin was profound. I met a Chinese girl in the Albergue who told me she had a few days off from work and this walk sounded adventurous to her that’s why she had been walking for 15 days and had planned to walk even further for 20 days. She wasn’t religious or soul searching, this was just a fun trip to her. A quick lunch and short nap later, I went to explore the village. It had an interesting spatial design with a big open square in the center and the cathedral, shops and restaurants around the square. The topography was a little steep with streets going up the hill towards the square.

Departing from Portomarin next morning, I began walking towards Palas de Rei, my next destination for the journey. This time, the route led me towards hill top and the view from there was breathtaking. The hill top was surrounded by open tracts of grasslands, trees and other hills with patchy farmlands and clusters of settlement at places. I could gaze at the view for hours if I stayed. Halfway through my destination, I was reunited with Wiebke, the German woman. That’s the remarkable thing about this journey. You see the same faces, who you started the walk with, at different instances of the walk. Apart from the signage that make one feel associated with the feeling of a pilgrim, the wish “Buen Camino” becomes a delightful tradition that you follow whenever you pass a pilgrim/pilgrims on the way.

 

Palas de Rei was a bigger town than the previous two. The evening mass at the cathedral used to be the perfect way to end the day even though I didn’t understand what they said in the mass. I would always see lot of familiar faces showing up at the mass and it became an important pilgrim ritual for me. The next day, I left for Melide that was 12 miles from Palas de Rei. This part of the walk was mostly thorugh forests and farms. Even if I would walk alone, I never felt lonely or vulnerable in my pilgrimage. Beautiful rolling landscapes and Spanish villages felt safe.

Melide was more developed and bigger than all the previous ones. The streets were busier, there were more shops, restaurants, café and a commercial center. There were local markets and streetside vendors for clothes, food, shoes etc. that made the local galician ambience more vivid. I met two Spanish girls in the Albergue as we shared a room. They had come from Seville to walk the last 100 kms as they had graduated and wished to get a job. Through walking, they believed that they are paying respect to God who would fulfil their wish. One of them translated the evening mass for me in the Cathedral. The priest praised the pilgrims and congratulated on their journey so far. He said with each step, we were reaching closer to God. The small town square was enlivened after the mass with restaurants and coffee shops with pilgrims dispersed and explored their options.

The next destination was Arzua. What was surprising about one of the bars on the way was it had a slot machine. After reaching Arzua, I explored the town and local food, highlight of which was spicy fried green chillies. The next morning, I began walking towards Amenal. With reaching closer to Santiago each day, my curiosity was increasing to see the final destination. The spatrial fabric of the landscapes was slowly transitioning into more urban from country as the walking paths became wider, even the ones next to highways. Amenal wasn’t really a village but an extremely small settlement with a hotel for pilgrims to stay at.

     

The final day of my journey towards Santiago was very exciting. I reached a hill while walking from the top of which I could see Santiago de Compostela. Each walking step towards the city was pumping energy into me and my enthusiasm levels were at its best. My arrival was anounced by decorative boards along the roadside that were decorated by embellishments from pilgrims. After reaching the town square, I made my way towards the cathedral through through fervent crowd in the narrow streets. The first sight of the Cathedral was eternal. Beautiful scupltures carved all over on the walls described the story of years and years of pilgrimage the cathedral has witnessed and it stood as a palimpsest of built material and pilgrims’ emotions. The inside was equally beautiful. Main chamber was adorned with glitterinmg gold sculptures of Jesus, angels and other saints. The whole aura was quite heavenly. The evening mass was in Spanish and I could ony understand a handful of words but it still gave me goosebumps and I felt proud as a pilgrim. After collecting my certificate of pilgrimage, I started exploring the town that felt as if it belonged to a different era, with talented musicians giving a wonderful background score on the streets, local ice cream shops and restaurants with authentic flavors and a charming pink sunset sky. I felt light as air, melting slowly in the cool winds, absorbing my journey into my soul.

     

 

Saloni Chawla
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Department of Landscape Architecture
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

 

References

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Garba Raas in Champaign Urbana

Every year during the period of Navratri, the Indian Association at Urbana Champaign brings the festive vibe with Garba Raas and pooja. Garba is a form of dance that originated in the state of Gujarat, India.

Dancers performing Garba in Gujarat

Dancers performing Garba in Gujarat

It is usually performed for nine nights of Navratri around a centrally lit lamp or a picture or statue of goddess Durga, the feminine form of Divinity. Garba comes from the Sanskrit word Garbha that translates as womb, signifying ‘Source of Life’. Revolving dancers in concentric cycles represent the cycles of life, death, and rebirth with the only thing constant as the goddess, who represents the source of life.

The modern form of Garba is called Dandiya Raas which is traditionally performed by men using a pair of wooden sticks. Nowadays, Garba and Dandiya are merged together, creating a high energy dance form. The origin of the dance is traced back to the legendary myth of the fight between Goddess Durga and mighty demon king Mahishasura—the dance is an homage to their mythical fight. The dance sticks represent the sword and the dance form honors Durga’s victory over the demon.

Men, women and children wear traditional dresses with colorful embroidery and mirrors and dance to the music of the dhol, a type of double-headed drum, and Gujarati folk songs. The women and girls wear chaniya choli, a three piece dress with a colorful embroidered blouse decorated with mirrors, shells, beads and stars, a flared skirt and a long scarf wrapped around in the traditional way. They also adorn themselves with beautiful jewelry. Men wear a top called a kedia and pants known at pyjama, or a dhoti with an oxidized bracelet and a necklace.

The Indian Association of Urbana Champaign strives to provide a common identity for the local Indian community and facilitate cultural, social and educational services and opportunities for cultural integration for people of all ages. They also foster those activities that enhance mutual understanding and appreciation between the Indo-American community and the mainstream American community. They organize Garba and Dandiya Raas usually on the second weekend of Navratri. This year, it was at ‘Brookens Center Urbana Park District’ on Sep 22nd and 29th, Friday and Saturday. I was delighted to be part of the celebration this year. The event began with the opening prayer to Goddess Durga which included lighting the lamp and singing religious songs. The dancers began gathering around the statue of the goddess in concentric circles and started dancing to the Gujarati folk music played by the DJ. There were men, women, children and elderly people, all decked out in beautiful colors. With the soft beats, people started matching each other rhythms and following a pattern. It was amazing to see how they could sync with each other’s movements in an orderly way and generate a beautiful dynamic form.

Dancers forming a circle around the idol. People of all ages participated in the event.

Dancers forming a circle around the idol. People of all ages participated in the event.

 

Traditional Attire

Traditional Attire

Everyone was enjoying the dance form and participated with full spirit. Often women lead the men in the dance. They would clap their hands, step forward and backward, swirl around and move ahead repeating the pattern. Even the elderly were dancing passionately! Apart from the Indian families in attendance, there were a lot of U of I students that excitedly participated in Garba Raas. A lot of those students weren’t part of the Gujarati community, but had come to celebrate the auspicious time of Navratri and to experience the pleasure of this traditional dance form. Experts in Garba including both students and adults, were there to teach to the rhythms of Garba to the uninitiated. Even the newbies were merged into the circles and helped them grow larger and larger. I was keen on learning these fascinating dance steps and was guided well by friends who were skilled at it. Soon I could swing like other dancers and became a part of the concentric formations of dance.

The newbies trying to learn to dance

The newbies trying to learn to dance

After a while, the dancing switched from Garba to Dandiya where people started using sticks, holding one in each hand, and dancing around the idol. I was excited to try the colorful sticks for dancing. There were several smaller groups that began creating their own rhythm with sticks clashing against each other on the beats of the songs. I started dancing with 5 other people, forming pairs within the group and continuously switching partners while dancing with the music. The songs were mostly fast paced now, with swift movements and changing partners after every beat or two. Beads of sweat glistening on almost every dancer’s forehead, the enthusiasm was too high to tire them. Those small groups merged into one big circle that was creating a spiritual energy focused in the center of the hall towards goddess Durga.

Dancing with Dandiya

Dancing with Dandiya

There were refreshments too including lemonade, savory Indian snacks like samosa, and desserts like gulab jamun and kheer. Set up on a table in one corner, whenever the music would get a little low, people would take short breaks and refresh themselves with food, feeling all the more energetic for continuing their dance.

The whole dance session came to end with an elaborate worship ritual of the Goddess Durga by everyone. A priest, with a plate containing flowers, a fruit and an oil lamp offered the Goddess his and everyone else’s devotion and prayer. All of us sang the devotional songs in unison and thanked the goddess for the blissful life, family, friends, and a chance to celebrate these auspicious days with them.

Worshipping the Goddess

Worshipping the Goddess

The celebration brought students, families and even non-native Indians together, irrespective of which part of India or the world are they from. No one identified there as a Gujarati, Bengali or Punjabi, but as someone who came to immerse himself/herself into the magnanimous aura of the Goddess Durga and the power-packed dance form. Many Indian students and family here miss their country, hometown, and families– most especially during Navratri and Diwali.  This is the third year that I am away from home for Navratri and Diwali celebration and this period always makes me wanting to go home but the celebration made me feel as if I have a family here as well that celebrates the festive spirit with such love and warmth. Events and celebrations like these bring us closer and let us form one big family here, away from home, rejoicing in our culture, traditions, and values no matter where we are in the world.

Saloni Chawla
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Department of Landscape Architecture
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

 

References:

 

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Learning Korean is as easy as A, B, C’s!

Ever wondered what those K-Pop bands are singing about? Or what the actors in your favorite K-dramas are crying about? Well, wonder no more because this post of Glocal Notes is for you!  Needless to say, you are not the only one because a study by The Modern Language Association found that university students taking Korean language classes increased by 45 percent between 2009 and 2013, despite the overall decrease in language learning by 7 percent. According to Rosemary Feal, the executive director of the Modern Language Association, this increase could be a result of young people’s interest with Korean media and culture. Before going into learning Korean, let’s find out about Korean language itself.

The Korean alphabet was invented!

The Korean alphabet was invented in 1444 and proclaimed by King Sejong the Great in 1446. The original alphabet is called Hunmin chŏngŭm which means “The correct sounds for the instruction of the people.” As you can see from the name of the alphabet, King Sejong cared about all of his people.

Before the Korean alphabet was invented, Korean people used Chinese characters along with other native writing systems as a means of documentation. As stated in the preface of Hunmin chŏngŭm below, because of inherent differences in Korean and Chinese and due to the fact that memorizing characters takes a lot of time, the majority of the lower classes were illiterate. This was used against them by aristocrats to put themselves in a higher position of power. As expected, the new system of writing faced intense resistance by the elites who perhaps thought it was a threat to their status and to China. However, King Sejong pushed through his opposition and promulgated the alphabet in 1446.

Below is the paraphrased translation of the preface of Hunmin chŏngŭm.

The language of [our] people is different from that of the nation of China and thus cannot be expressed by the written language of Chinese people. Because of this reason, the cries of illiterate peasants are not properly understood by the many [in the position of privilege]. I [feel the plight of the peasants and the difficulties faced by the public servants and] am saddened by the situation.

Therefore, twenty eight [written] characters have been newly created. [My desire is] such that, each [Korean] person may become familiar [with the newly created written language of Korean] and use them daily in an intuitive way.

A page from the Hunmin Jeong-eum Eonhae

A page from the Hunmin Jeong-eum Eonhae, a partial translation of Hunminjeongeum, the original promulgation of the Korean alphabet. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hunmin_jeong-eum.jpg

Korean is simple.

The construct of the system is simple. Because King Sejong knew that peasants did not have hours and hours to spend on learning how to write, he invented a system in which “a wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” The modern-day script has evolved into 24 characters and is called Hangul (한글) in South Korea and Chosŏn’gul (조선글) in North Korea. Due to its simplicity, both Koreas boast exceptionally high literacy rates, more than 99% in South and North Korea.

Fourteen consonants in Hangul

Fourteen consonants in Hangul http://www.antiquealive.com/Blogs/Hangeul_Korean_Alphabet.html

Ten vowels in Hangul

Ten vowels in Hangul http://www.antiquealive.com/Blogs/Hangeul_Korean_Alphabet.html

Consonants: What you see is what you write.

The shapes of consonants, ㄱ(g/k),ㄴ(n),ㅅ(s),ㅁ(m) andㅇ(ng), are based on how your speech organs look like when you pronounce these sounds. Other consonants were derived from the above letters by adding extra lines for aspirated sounds and by doubling the consonant for tense consonants.  

Shapes of consonants in Hangul

Shapes of consonants in Hangul
http://www.wright-house.com/korean/korean-linguistics-origins.html

Vowels: Three strokes encompass the world.

Various combinations of three strokes make up vowels in Hangul. A horizontal line (ㅡ) represents the Earth (Yin), a vertical line for the standing human (ㅣ), and a point (ㆍ) for heaven (Yang). This concept is derived from Eastern philosophy where heaven, Earth and human are one.

Vowel combinations in Hangul

Vowel combinations in Hangul
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHangul_Taegeuk.png
By Jatlas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

1 Block = 1 Syllable

The Korean alphabet consists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Unlike English, where letters are written in sequential order, Korean letters are combined into syllable blocks. Each block produces 1 syllable. A syllable block contains a combination of consonant/s and vowel/s. For example, since the word 한글 (Hangul) has two syllables, it has two blocks. Pretty easy, right?

Syllable Blocks for the word 한글 (Hangul)

Syllable Blocks for the word 한글 (Hangul)
http://allthingslinguistic.com/post/66133111314/why-the-korean-alphabet-is-brilliant

Learn Korean

If you have made it this far, you may want to check out some ways you can actually learn the language yourself. There are numerous resources and classes that will fit your learning style.

Take classes:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers twelve Korean language courses throughout the academic year with varying levels. There are multiple scholarship opportunities for learning Korean! Check out Foreign Languages and Area Studies, Critical Language Scholarship Program, Middlebury Language Schools’ Summer Intensive Program Fellowship, and many more.    

Self-study tools:

Strapped for time during the semester? There are many self-study tools that will let you learn the language in your own time, location and pace.

Print resources:

  • Integrated Korean Series – Want to take a peek at what students are learning in Korean classes? This is the current textbook used by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Korean Language Program.
  • 서강 한국어 (Sŏgang Han’gugŏ) – Series of textbooks published by Sŏgang University in Korea and used by many Korean programs in American Universities.
  • 재미있는 한국어 (Chaemi innŭn Han’gugo) – Korean textbook series published by Korea University. Volumes 4-6 are available through the University Library.
  • Everyday Korean Idiomatic Expressions: 100 Expressions you can’t live without – Have you ever wondered about some Korean expressions from K-drama that just did not do it justice with word-for-word translations? Well, this book is for you! This book lists 100 idiomatic expressions with literal and actual meanings and usages with detailed explanations so you can be a Korean language expert. Here is the book intro.

  • 외국인을 위한 한국어 읽기 (Korean Graded Readers) – Want to read Korean novels and short stories but afraid that those may be too hard for you?  Here is a set of 100 books where Korean novels and short stories are divided into levels of difficulty.
  • Korean with Chinese Characters – Want to find out how Hancha (Chinese characters in Korea) is used in a Korean context? Here is a book that lists some common Hancha words used in Korean contexts.

Language through media:

Sometimes, learning a language may be less stressful if you follow a storyline. Here are some resources for you to explore Korean movies and dramas.

  • Media Collection at Undergraduate Library – Korean movies from diverse time periods are available through the Media collection at Undergraduate library.
  • Asian Educational Media Service (AEMS) – AEMS is a program of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that offers multimedia resources to promote awareness and understanding of Asian cultures and people.
  • Asian Film Online – Asian Film Online offers a view of Asian culture as seen through the lens of the independent Asian filmmaker. Through a selection of narrative feature films, documentaries and shorts curated by film scholars and critics, the collection offers perspectives and insights on themes highly relevant across Asia, including modernity, globalization, female agency, social and political unrest, and cultural and sexual identity.
  • Ondemandkorea.com – Watch Korean drama and variety shows, for free. Many of the episodes provide subtitles in English and Chinese.

Other Resources:

  • Korean Language Program -The Korean Language Program at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign offers Korean and accelerated Korean language course tracks for non-heritage and heritage learners. These language courses are augmented with cultural instruction introducing students to both Korean culture and society using authentic texts and audio-visual materials including newspaper articles, dramas, films, documentaries, etc. Weekly events such as the Korean Conversation Table (KCT) are available during the semester to help you practice speaking in Korean.
  • Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies (CEAPS) – The Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies provides lectures, seminars, programs and events on East and Southeast Asia.  
  • Korean Cultural Center (KCC) Facebook Page – The Korean Cultural Center is a registered student organization and a non-profit organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The group works to promote Korean culture through various events and programs. Visit their Facebook page to check out the latest event!

If you are interested in finding out more about learning Korean language or its culture, feel free to contact the International and Areas Studies Library at internationalref@library.illinois.edu. Also, don’t forget to follow our Facebook page for instant updates on cultural events and posts like this one.

Author: Audrey Chun

References

Algi Shwipke Pʻurŏ Ssŭn Hunmin Chŏngŭm. Sŏul : Saenggak ŭi Namu, 2008.

The Background of the invention of Hangeul”. The National Academy of the Korean Language. January 2004.

Hunmin Jeongeum Haerye, postface of Jeong Inji, p. 27a, translation from Gari K. Ledyard, The Korean Language Reform of 1446, p. 258.

Korea. [Seoul : Korean Culture And Information Service], 2008.                    

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The Honduras Water Project

The University of Illinois provides its students with many opportunities to learn about different countries and cultures, engage in international work and also learn through service-learning. One exciting opportunity for students at UIUC is a course that has been offered for the past 3 years. Supported by the College of Engineering, the Honduras Water Project gives students an opportunity to apply classroom learning to real-life work.

UIUC flyer for the Honduras Water Project Course -- Illinois-Span-Advising Website

UIUC flyer for the Honduras Water Project Course — Illinois-Span-Advising Website

This course spans two semesters and includes the opportunity to travel to the Central American nation of Honduras. Working with a local NGO in country, students learn how to design a gravity-flow water distribution system while also learning how to ensure sustainability of the project. During the trip, students visit the specific community where the designed system will be implemented. They get to know the community as well as collect information to better meet the needs of its residents.

Ann-Perry Witmer, the course instructor, believes the Honduras Water Project is unique because of

The interdisciplinary nature of it. It’s a fabulous opportunity for engineering students to broaden their understanding while collaborating with other students. Everyone is able to learn from each other while expanding their own understanding of the world.”

Honduras is a Spanish-speaking country located in the north-central part of Central America. It has a population of over 8 million people and the capital city is Tegucigalpa, located in the south-central region of the country.

 "Map of Central America" by Cacahuate, amendments by Joelf - Own work based on the blank world map. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_Central_America.png#/media/File:Map_of_Central_America.png

“Map of Central America” by Cacahuate, amendments by Joelf – Own work based on the blank world map. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Honduras Water Project course focuses on working with rural communities in Honduras, along with the help and collaboration of a local Honduran non-governmental organization, Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC). ADEC is based out of Marcala, Honduras, but works in many rural areas, thus fostering its ability to provide support to the Honduras Water Project courses throughout the years. This NGO assists UIUC students throughout the entirety of the course because of its experience in water, sanitation, health, and hygiene projects in rural areas of Honduras.

Picture of the ADEC sign in Marcala, Honduras - from a previous trip, posted on http://hwpillinois.weebly.com/

Picture of the ADEC sign in Marcala, Honduras – from a previous trip, posted on the course’s website

As mentioned above, the course is led by Ann-Perry Witmer, a practicing Civil Engineer and Teaching Associate with the College of Engineering at UIUC. Ann has worked on a number of international service projects and emphasizes the importance of understanding sociopolitical and cultural influences while working on contextual engineering designs of a project as well.

When asked what she would like the UIUC community to know about the course, Ann responded, “These opportunities exist to step outside your own comfort zone and learn from others while sharing your own knowledge.” Also, that because of this class “we’re redefining how international service is done, to make it more sustainable and more recipient-focused.” Furthermore, “At the root of courses like this is the focus of building respect for the developing world  – and appreciation for how large it is – and then how much we can learn from them.”

Group of UIUC students from a previous trip -- photo by Ann-Perry Witmer

Group of UIUC students from a previous trip — photo by Ann-Perry Witmer

This course is not reserved only for engineering students. Rather, it incorporates students from all departments and disciplines who then come together to work through every step in the process of understanding the problem, creating a contextual design, and working hand-in-hand with the community.

I am enrolled in the course and have had the great opportunity to work with students from all levels and all departments throughout the semester. Currently I am a second year graduate student in African Studies at UIUC. I have spent time working with an NGO in East Africa on a water project, installing shallow wells for clean drinking water in rural communities. With this experience, my passion for water was born. I realized how extremely important water is; that water is life. While pursuing my degree in African Studies here at UIUC, I have taken courses in health, urban planning, and engineering that have all complemented one another and helped to provide me with a more holistic view of international service projects. I am excited to have found a class that takes an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to an international service project and I’m glad that I can share my experience working in East Africa with everyone working on the project in Honduras.

This course is divided into two different semesters. The fall semester of the class is focused around preliminary design work and also how to incorporate a holistic view of the project, including emphasis on the technical, social, and political components of the project. The spring semester will be focused more on the finalization of the design as well as grant-writing to fund the project. We are currently continuing preparations for our trip to Cerro Verde, the community that we will be working on the design with.

A group of students and alumni mentors (students from previous years) will be traveling to Cerro Verde, Honduras from January 7-17, 2016. While there we will be doing a number of things, including household surveys, water-quality testing, health and hygiene education, and also on-site collaboration with ADEC, the community members, and the local water committee.

For the final project of this semester, the Honduras Water Project class will be giving a conceptual design presentation to discuss what we have accomplished in the course this fall, as well as what our plans are for the trip in January. This presentation is open to the public, in the hopes of raising awareness of the project, and will take place on Tuesday, December 15th at 7pm in Deere Pavilion. All students, faculty, and community members are welcome to attend. 

Flyer for the Honduras Water Project Conceptual Design Presentation, December 15, 2015

Flyer for the Honduras Water Project Conceptual Design Presentation, December 15, 2015

I will also be doing a follow-up post this spring, detailing what was accomplished during the January trip, as well as how the design, funding search, and future implementation plans are going.

This is the third project in three years for Honduras Water Project. For more specific information about the past projects, visit the Honduras Water Project website.

When asked about the future of the course, Ann-Perry Witmer responded, 

“This is just the start. We have a course this spring that is building on Honduras Water Project by researching the impact that engineering design has on communities. I would like to see it to continue to grow on an understanding that any discipline involved in international development can benefit. An interdisciplinary approach needs to be more widespread. And it will only make engineers stronger.”

To get access to more posts like these, follow our Facebook page and be sure to check back in January to learn about my experience in Central America! 

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