Impact of Engineering in The Highlands of Guatemala

What do you get when you combine a team of 14 volunteers from Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church from Ashland, Virginia, 650 tires, and a school soccer field in the community of Xeabaj II, Guatemala? Thanks to the research, generosity, and hard work of Dr. Ray Martin’s team, you get a large-scale and long-lasting project to combat erosion of the soccer field, ensuring that the field and its surrounding areas are safe and usable in coming years.

For this project, the team of volunteers worked to construct a retaining wall, drainage structures, and a drainage ditch. The retaining wall, built to prevent future erosion, was constructed using old car tires, the perfect material due to their weather resistance, abundance in Guatemala, and eco-friendly impact. The plans for this project were developed by a class taught by Dr. Martin, Engineering for Developing Areas, at Randolph-Macon College. The class was able to conduct hands-on research for the project as well, when they visited Xeabaj II for two weeks last January. Dr. Martin explained the process, “The plan also reduced the cost of remediation and was an approach that the local community could construct... Students designed the gravity retaining wall and lining using geology and civil engineering principles (geotechnical, structural hydrology and hydraulics), and, with the help of volunteers, the plan was implemented over four days. Thanks to volunteers, the Xeabaj II community—at an elevation of 10,000 feet—now has a soccer field that should last for many years.”

Randolph Macon College

Randolph Macon College

The construction itself took place over a week in July, under the leadership of both Dr. Martin and Randolph-Macon College Chaplain, Kendra Grimes, with a team of 14 total volunteers. Grimes has traveled to Guatemala 8 times, and through helping to bridge Randolph-Macon and Duncan Memorial UMC, explained that, “This latest collaboration shows that wondrous things happen when people come together and work toward the common goal of serving others. Our engineering physics students had the knowledge to design the ditch and retaining wall; the church funded and supported the project with volunteers; and the community members in Xeabaj II did much of the back breaking work side by side with our team.” Although the week certainly included some hard work, one volunteer, Kerstin Mayes, described being “exhausted each day,” it was not without its own rewards as well. Mayes further explained that, “This trip allowed me to escape myself and fall into the hands of service for others. It was a blessing.” Grimes, on a similar note, reflected that, “The children and adults of the community find such joy on that field. We will always treasure being a part of preserving the space they worked so hard to create.”

When looking at the overview of both the planning and implementation of this project, the consistent leader and driver has been Dr. Ray Martin. He has been coming to Guatemala for 12 years, but began utilizing his engineering expertise in 2014 when he developed solutions to combat the effects of mudslides near a school in Xeabaj II. In 2015, he continued in Xeabaj II, this time with a study of flooding in the area, and the design of a trench to prevent further damage. Over the years, Dr. Martin has brought the valuable combination of both engineering expertise to generative innovative solutions to local problems, while also rallying large, enthusiastic groups of volunteers to complete the projects. Ben Blevins, founder of HSP, further elaborated, “He is a unique person in that he engages in the sometimes un-fun work of seeing through projects through both the development over years as well as bringing in the groups of volunteers.” Through this, Dr. Matin has clearly demonstrated his commitment to improving lives in Guatemala in the long run. This past year, the group he brought was particularly special, as it included both his daughter and granddaughter. With his family now by his side, he was able to share with them his engineering knowledge, his hardworking attitude, and his love of Doña Chavez’s delicious black bean soup.



With the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Martin, Randolph-Macon students planned and calculated how to combat the soil erosion

With the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Martin, Randolph-Macon students
planned and calculated how to combat the soil erosion

The Duncan Memorial UMC group hard at work on the retention wall and drainage ditch

Written by. Madison Sweitzer
Pictures by. Diana Alvarado & Kendra Grimes
Diana Alvarado