2011-01-20 / News

Islander helps gives the gift of water to Honduras

By Cindy Cingone

Engineering is one of the top 10 hardest jobs to fill in America, according to Forbes. In 2009 and 2010, America was at a loss of filling engineering positions. Generations have majored in liberal arts rather than math and science.

One such candidate, however, who is filling America’s need for engineers, is Jamestown’s John Chase.

Engineering is a field that requires experience before you can take on major responsibility. It is one thing to learn the theory of engineering; it is another to have decades of work experience. Chase, 20, is currently attending Northeastern University in Boston and is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.

Chase came to live in Jamestown at the age of 7 when his parents inherited Hodgkiss Farms on North Road from his grandmother, after she passed away in 1997. He attended both the Lawn Avenue and Melrose Schools, and graduated from North Kingstown High School. John’s father, Harry, runs Chase Farm. His love of the farm and what it took to run it interested him. John was curious as to how things worked on the farm. He worked on water-irrigation systems and helped install pipelines, which would later prove to be instrumental in his decision to pursue a career in engineering.

National Grid, one of the largest investor-owned energy companies in the world, is interested in hiring engineers for its business core. It was a natural move for the company to team up with Northeastern University and sponsor an Engineers Without Borders program. National Grid pays all the expenses for teams of six student engineers to travel to remote areas of the globe and help villages install designed fresh-water systems as well as other engineering objectives.

John became involved with the program in his freshman year. “It seemed like a great opportunity to use what I would be learning in engineering classes,” he said. “I wanted to give back to people who really needed our help.”

John was given the opportunity to increase his hands-on engineering experience through a two-year $20,000 grant from National Grid. John and five other candidates left the United States for two weeks in December, and upon their arrival in Honduras, helped the small, impoverished village of El Carrizalito design and build a water-irrigation system. While in the field in the northern mountainous region of Honduras, the students would have no means of electronic communication.

“On paper,” John said, “the project of lifting water 300 feet vertically and 1,000 feet horizontally seemed impossible.” But once John stood in the village and saw the determination of the people living there, the project seemed within reach.

A big help was John’s familiarity with the Spanish language, which he studied in middle school and high school. “Learning Spanish,” Chase said, “was very helpful when I was in Honduras.”

John was moved by a Honduran named Carlos. Carlos, who lives in the village, was stricken with polio when he was a young boy, which has left him without the use of his legs. He “walked” on his hands down a steep trail to fetch water daily. Carlos would fling his filled water container across his back and walk back to the village on only one hand.

Spending time in Honduras has made John more grateful for living in Jamestown. He said that after seeing how simple things like running water, electricity and refrigeration are considered luxuries in some parts of the world, he now has a new appreciation for such utilities, instead of taking them for granted.

“I want to become a mechanical engineer,” Chase said. “But at the same time I want to give something back because I have been very fortunate in life so far.”

National Grid knows what will make an engineer great, and is instrumental in selecting and nurturing its valuable American work force.

“As far as National Grid,” John said, “they were very generous in helping to sponsor our trip and hopefully they can also provide us with some technical assistance, because the next phase of our project is probably going to involve running electrical poles to the village to power a pump for the water system.”

John feels blessed to have grown up in Jamestown. His time in Honduras made John realize just how fortunate he has been.

“Being a part of Engineers Without Borders has definitely changed me in a number of ways,” John said. “First off it has taught me that engineering is not just about numbers and calculations or technical knowledge. It is very much all about people.”

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