Living Village

As part of SMU’s first Engineering & Humanity Week in April 2011, students will live, cook their meals and sleep in temporary shelters designed to house people living in extreme poverty or displaced by war and natural disasters. Students, faculty and local members of the community will build the “Living Village” on the SMU campus lawn, showcasing structures ranging from standard-issue United Nations tents to the experimental EcoDome (sandbag shelter), which uses wire to stabilize walls constructed of long, earth-filled tubes.

Glass half full

An entry from Taylor, a first-year civil engineering major:

After a week of sleeping on the pleasantly soft ground, I have decided to look past the initial discomfort and speak about a couple positives that I noticed while staying in the ShelterBox.

Even though I woke up every morning feeling like I had lost a fight the night before, I was dry, and clean, and warm(ish). Comparing my shelter to some of the others in the village, I was spoiled! (But I did find out I was one of only a few who was still sleeping without a cot.) I didn’t have to sleep on the grass because the ShelterBox tent had a built-in tarp floor, protecting me from bugs and dirt. There is also a lip at the entrances so that, if there would be any flooding, the ground would have stayed dry. The tent was also enclosed so that my nights were not disrupted by any winds.

I am not going to pretend that it was the greatest week of sleep I have ever experienced, but I will say that I would be more than thankful for a shelter to keep me from the elements. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like for people to sleep without any kind of shelter.

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Engineering with a purpose: Day 2

An entry from Jonathan, a senior EMIS major:

What a beautiful morning! We have now stayed two nights at the Living Village on SMU’s exquisite campus, and what an experience it’s been.

Our first night was spent with live music, volleyball and s’mores. Everyone went off to bed around midnight, but due to the physical activity of volleyball, I was still wide awake and energized. I decided to decompress by playing some acoustic guitar, which I hoped would help calm everyone in the camp as we went to sleep. (I have a feeling it did!) Nothing helps relax you like “Romanza” played lightly on a cool night under the stars!

I went to bed in the Hexayurt around 1 a.m. and woke up feeling beaten by the hard ground. Like others, I jolted awake several times and only achieved light sleep -imagine having to spend the night like this for several months surrounded by thousands of other people. Quite sobering.

Last night, a few of us threw the frisbee around starting at 10 p.m., which was a wonderful way to end the hectic day. After a full schedule of class, E&H luncheons, panels, homework, senior design, and my on-campus job, I was ready for some mental R&R. NOTE: throwing a frisbee outfitted with LEDs is the perfect remedy for a stressful day! I managed to procure a cot and this contributed to much better sleep.

Finally, I can appreciate how humor, physical activity and games would help immensely in a refugee and/or emergency camp situation. These keep your sanity and provide a terrific group bonding experience. Overall, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. When you spend days working outside, connecting with people and building something from the ground up, it’s utterly fulfilling when you stand back and witness the fruits of your labor.

If there are any engineering jobs remotely similar to this, please sign me up now!

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After a chilly night in a tent

An entry from Taylor, a first-year civil engineering major:

I was not expecting the night of sleep to turn out as badly as it did because I have stayed a week in a couple different third-world countries. But in the countries I have been to, they spoil us with a one-inch mattress pad.

The other villagers and I enjoyed an evening (and some of the night) of music (Carl Sullivan and the Rising Suns!!), volleyball and s’mores over a small wood stove. It was an awesome night until we had to do homework and then go to sleep.

I stayed the night in the ShelterBox tent. I was thoroughly impressed during the day by how low the temperature stayed with the sun beating down on it. But as soon as the sun went down last night, the temperature dropped dramatically and became quite chilly. Thankfully, I had a sleeping bag to keep me warm. (The ShelterBox actually includes a set of blankets for warmth depending on the country in need.)

My first mistake of the night was putting off my homework until everyone was calming down for the night. It was many hours after dark, so I had to go inside to finish my work. I finally got to bed after setting my alarm and went to sleep. I woke up abruptly with some movement and a bright light. I thought for sure I had slept through my alarm and missed my class at 9:30. But after I got to my phone, I realized it was only 7 a.m. The sun had woken me up. I had no protection from daylight to sleep to make up for staying up so late. So for tonight, I have decided I will be heading to bed much sooner, with the sun.

The toughest part about the night was lying on the ground. While I fell asleep almost right away, it was because I was exhausted. When I woke up in the morning, I felt like I had slept for maybe half an hour, even though it had been hours. The ground beat up my body so I woke up sore and still physically exhausted. It’s going to take a lot more hours of sleep to get the “rest” I need to make it through my days.

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First night at the Living Village

An entry from Ryan, a sophomore electrical engineering major and French minor:

So, last night was the first night staying in the UNHCR tent for me. The tent is huge! It could easily fit 10 people or more. Considering I was one of the two people partying in the UNHCR tent (Whoo! Whoo! Party time!), we had plenty of room for ourselves.

At about 12:20 a.m., I went to sleep to the gentle strummings of an acoustic guitar. I woke up 3 or 4 times for various reasons – once around 2 a.m. to zip up my sleeping bag all the way (it was a little colder than I expected last night, mid-50s maybe?), once more at 3:44 a.m. to the sound of a man running wire or power cables or something, another at 6:40 a.m. to the birdsong of a grackle, and then finally about first light.

I have slept in a tent before but not without a sleeping pad between me and the hard ground. So I was definitely achy this morning, like an old man. The nice thing about the UNHCR tent compared to the other structures is that we weren’t directly touching the ground at anytime. No wet grass, no dirty dirt, and for the most part, no bugs. (While combing my hair this morning, I may have found one or two.)

So, in summary, here’s a list of things that I learned last night:

– The ground is hard and cold
– I hate grackles
– Electricians get up early
– Bugs are everywhere
– AND guitars are pleasant to fall asleep to

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