March 15, 2008

Kavinda Udugama ’09 Uses Knowledge and Experience to Encourage Economic Sustainability in Struggling Communities

He, Lori Gonzalez ’10, and Katherine Reeves ’10 present new project’s progress at Clinton Global Initiative University Conference this weekend

By Hristiana Eneva ’10

EASTON, Pa.(www.lafayette.edu), March 15, 2008 — Hristiana Eneva ’10 writes from the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in New Orleans:

A native of Sri Lanka, Kavinda Udugama ’09 has witnessed long years of civil unrest and has come face to face with many of the problems the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference (CGI U) being held this weekend in New Orleans, La., is seeking to alleviate. Having seen the devastating effects of the tsunami that hit his homeland in December 2004, he has been able to fully appreciate the importance of timely action and human support. As he once said: “Everything can be done, it just takes a bit of trying.”

Since coming to Lafayette, Udugama has been involved in numerous academic and service learning projects and discovered his true passion for electrical and computer engineering. He is also majoring in mathematics and has a solid background in economics and business.

The project he is currently working on, Lafayette’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project (EEGLP), allows him to combine his analytical mind and creative nature in order to put the knowledge he has acquired into practice. This weekend, he, mechanical engineering major Lori Gonzalez ’10 (Bronx, N.Y.), and economics and business major Katherine Reeves ’10 (Colorado Spring, Col.) are discussing the project’s progress with college and university students from across the country at the CGI U.

What started as a water-plant construction project for Lafayette’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-LC), has turned into a major source of economic change in the underdeveloped rural area of Lagunitas, Honduras.

The project started in 2003 when a group of students from Lafayette set out to build a gravity-fed potable water system and a water treatment plan for the people of Lagunitas. Motivated by the strong need of the local community, the engineers constructed an outstanding facility just as planned.

Udugama, however, kept in mind that the extreme poverty in the region would not allow the locals to maintain the otherwise simple and affordable structure. The solution he offered was equally ingenious in both economic and engineering terms and thus won the intellectual support of Gladstone Fluney Hutchinson, associate professor of economics and business, and a $10,000 grant from the Kathryn Wasserman David 100 Projects for Peace.

After identifying coffee as the best potential cash crop for the village, Udugama suggested that the villagers be granted basic technological equipment, introduced to the modern principles of coffee growing and assisted in marketing their production. Economic activity, he thought, would not only facilitate the sustainability of the newly created water system but would also further future development. As a result, the EWB-LC students traveled to Honduras in the summer of 2007 to personally assess the situation and lay down the foundations of the first Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project.

As of today, a coffee suckling nursery has been created with 15,000 new coffee trees planted and 3,500 mature ones scheduled for fertilizing and restoration in March 2008. The EEGLP team has also cooperated with the Honduran national coffee board and has thus provided a direct market for the coffee production, eliminating any intermediaries that may hinder the process.

A team of students will return to Lagunitas this summer to complete that portion of the project and to expand the economic self-empowerment program to the neighboring but more isolated village of La Fortuna. They will also be employing this innovative paradigm in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, La.

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