Sanitation, Education & Development

Current Project Lead

Anabella Noguera,

About the Project

In 2014 a team of UCLA students and professional engineers traveled on an assessment trip down to San Sebastian, Nicaragua to address their educational needs. One of the problems regarding the education system in San Sebastián and its surrounding communities is the poor condition of its existing schoolhouse. Thus, San Sebastián proposed to implement a new program structured like a summer school or summer camp program in the US where about 100 children would travel to San Sebastian. In order to make this program a reality, we decided to remodel its existing schoolhouse structure as a room & board building with local materials, and existing construction practices. 


This project is phase 2 of Project Sanitation Education and Development (S.E.D.). Similar to our previous work in San Sebastián involving compost latrines, we will once again be cooperating with Nicaragua Chapter of Sustainable Harvest International (FUNCOS), a non-government organization. We are currently working on the construction process, which began with an assessment trip in September 2017.

About San Sebastián, Nicaragua

Bluefields is the city closest to the site. It takes approximately 45 minutes to travel from Bluefields to San Sebastián by car. San Sebastián is marked by the red pin in the above map. The community of San Sebastián has a population of over 65 families. The population of San Sebastián is approximately 85% literate and all housing construction was done locally by community members. Each family owns approximately 10-20 manzanas (1 manzana is equal to 10,000 squared meters) of land and source of water for each family is via a hand-dug well. The community of San Sebastián is surrounded by the communities of Cano Negro, Cano Azul, San Sebastián, and Nuevo Alianza, with San Sebastián being the central location of all communities.


There are two major seasons affecting transportation to and from San Sebastian: rainy season and summer season. During the rainy season, the major road to Bluefields is flooded. During the summer season, the road is most convenient to travel. The most common transportation is by foot or by horse. Occupation is predominantly agricultural related- most families own small crops and farms (chickens, pigs, cows, etc.) or work as lumberjacks. Families in the community have access to radio and electricity (although electricity is used sparingly) and community announcements are broadcast via radio each morning. 

The problem regarding the education system in San Sebastián and its surrounding communities the poor condition of its existing schoolhouse. There are multiple cracks and areas allowing for leakage into the structure in the corners of the schoolhouse. The existing schoolhouse also has no more than a 6mx6m footprint and often times more than 1 class will be held in the schoolhouse at the same time, which provides many challenges and distractions for both the schoolteacher and the students.


Another problem that has been discussed by the head schoolteacher in San Sebastián is in regard to student attendance. Although there are a total of 93 children in the area eligible to attend school, approximately 45 of the children do not attend school due to hardships related to travel distance, flood season, and working to provide for their families. Thus, San Sebastián is proposing to implement a new program structured like a summer school or summer camp program in the US where all 93 children would travel to San Sebastian during the Christmas holiday, Holy week holiday, and Independence day holiday and stay in school for the entire week. However, in order to do this, San Sebastian would need to provide some sort of lodging for the surplus in students. Thus, San Sebastián is proposing to remodel its existing schoolhouse structure as a room & board building and is in need of a larger schoolhouse to accommodate the surplus in students.

Current Phase of the Project

Structural engineers from both the U.S. and Nicaragua, as well as local contractors, work together to devise the best way to construct the school.

A team of three traveled to San Sebastián from September 15-21, 2017. They began the construction of the foundations for the new schoolhouse, as shown above. About ten to fifteen community members worked with the UCLA team each day to excavate the soil and install formwork. The team traveled to Bluefields with the local school principal to buy materials. The materials were trucked to the site and unloaded by the local volunteers. Then, the group mixed and poured the concrete pad footings spaced at 8 ft. around the perimeter of the school footprint.

We are moving forward with a remote implementation during Fall of 2020.

Buying materials in a hardware store in Bluefields, Nicaragua​.

The blue and white building is the existing schoolhouse. Inside the trenches in the foreground are the pad footings.

More Background Information

The location was chosen based on its proximity to the existing school. The schoolhouse design will be modeled after the current construction of a nearby church structure. The EWB-UCLA team hopes to make improvements to San Sebastian construction practices by addressing: wide cracks in concrete slabs, neglect of load path when constructing the building frame, overuse of materials due to unnecessary beams, etc., and fixed connections. The San Sebastián community and its neighboring communities will be contributing to material cost (wood) and will be performing the labor of the schoolhouse themselves.

A brief description of the details that the San Sebastian community and the January 2014 travel team agreed upon includes the following:

  • 2 classrooms separated by partitions

  • a middle hallway

  • mini-falda construction (a concrete masonry unit (CMU) wall approximately 2-3' in height connected to a wooden frame

  • wooden trusses for the roof with metal sheets nailed on top

The Nicaragua design team and travelers!

The design of the schoolhouse has been a collaboration between UCLA engineering undergraduate and graduate students as well as professional mentors that are licensed engineers. Preliminary suggestions on how Project S.E.D. can make structural improvements to the current mini-falda structure include: 

  • Alignment of concrete masonry and wooden columns 

  • Elimination of unnecessary beam and truss elements

  • Improvement of connection of CMU wall to wooden frame above wall

  • Improvement of connection of metal sheet roof to wooden truss

  • Improvement of building foundation (no foundation was provided for existing schoolhouse)

  • Improvement of watertightness

  • Development of the structural lateral system

  • Mitigation of noise due to rain hitting the roof (through addition of filler or noise-cancelling material in the roof)

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