Demopolis native travels to SE Asia

Published 7:23 pm Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Searching for and providing fresh water sources to developing nations may sound like a daunting and somewhat impossible task.

But to Demopolis native Rob Quinney, it is just another step in his college education and toward his goal of becoming an engineer.

Quinney, a junior civil engineering major at the University of Alabama, is part of a group called Engineers Without Borders. Engineers Without Borders is a national organization with collegiate chapters around the nation that does both local and international volunteer work with the goal of creating and applying sustainable engineering projects.

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“As a child, I always built treehouses and stuff,” Quinney said. “I’m a hands-on guy.”

Quinney recently had the perfect opportunity to utilize his passion for engineering. Last May, Quinney, nine other students, and two professors from the University of Alabama traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia for a 19 day service learning project about drinking water quality in rural villages.

“We had two objectives,” Quinney explained. “First, we wanted to make a publishable assessment on the water quality for surrounding villages. This would be mapped out and put on the internet. Our main objective was to find water sources that might be safely marketed by the use of small water treatment plants.”

The students collected water samples from various wells, rivers and pagodas in both countries and tested the samples for arsenic and coliform bacteria. Naturally occuring arsenic in the mountains of Cambodia flows through the rivers into many primary village water sources.

Coliform bacteria is also a major contaminate of water sources. Unless drinking water is boiled properly, coliform bacteria remains in the water and can lead to severe illness or death.

“Boiling water takes a long time. If people need water on a quick basis, this is a big problem,” Quinney said.

Quinney became a personal example of the health crisis facing Southeast Asia. After consuming food that had been exposed to the contaminated water, Quinney spent almost two days in a Vietnamese hospital.

Therefore the need to provide safe water became an even more personal mission to Quinney and his team.

“The water is a big health problem,” Quinney said. “From the testing, [we discovered] there is very little arsenic but enough to cause long-term health problems.”

Fortunately, the team successfully discovered six potential sights that could support small sustainable treatment plants. The assessments and discoveries of these sights will be handed over to Resource Development International Cambodia and the local government for implementation.

Quinney returned from Vietnam and Cambodia with a great respect for their culture and people.

“They work so hard for what they have,” Quinney said.

Quinney and his team also enjoyed the beauty and intrigue of the land by visiting locations such as the ancient temple Angkor Wat and the mighty Mekong River.

Yet Quinney also returned with a greater appreciation for his own country.

As he explained, “We are so blessed to be in America and have the things we do.”