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After a Flood, Engineers Needed for Home(town) Improvements

Tonight’s benefit to raise funds for rebuilding efforts in Peru

The tiny town of Chirimoto, Peru, was the jewel of the Rodriguez de Mendoza province until devastating floods in the 1980s wiped out the adobe brick houses and buildings and forced more than half of the residents to flee to the mountains to find a new life. Years later, the impact of the floods is still evident in the rampant poverty, lack of health care, and growing illiteracy.

Chirimoto native Luis Chavez (GRS’04,’08), a College of Arts and Sciences senior teaching fellow in Spanish and a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, is working to get his hometown back on its feet. Last summer, he led the effort to build a community center there, and recently he teamed up with Boston University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders to make other improvements. He hopes that the collaboration will bring electricity to the center and lead to an improved sewerage system and expanded health services in the town.

Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit that helps developing areas worldwide with engineering needs while training responsible engineering students, will hold its first fundraiser for the project on tonight, October 18, at the BU Photonics Center. The 6:30 p.m. event includes a catered Peruvian dinner, a Peruvian musician, and a silent auction featuring Red Sox memorabilia and concert tickets, among other items.

Chavez was 11 years old when he left Chirimoto for better educational opportunities in a nearby province. He remembers riding home on horseback to visit his family on the weekends — a five-hour trip. He continued his education in Lima and then came to Boston University, where he earned a master’s degree and is working toward a doctorate in Hispanic language and literature.

But no matter how far from home Chavez traveled, Chirimoto, with its population of approximately 300, never left his thoughts. “Even before my application to BU, I had a lot of ideas to support my town,” he says. “Four years ago, I went there. The people in the town asked for help.” Being the first person from Chirimoto to pursue a degree in the United States gives him a leadership position. “For my town, it’s important,” he says.

“They’re very proud of him,” says his wife, Gina Carloni, an assistant University registrar.

Chavez used his own money and some hefty loans to build the community center in Chirimoto, which is large enough to serve as a meeting place, a school, a library, and an adult education center. He named it Hummingbird House.

“Hummingbirds are little birds, very fragile, very nice,” Chavez says. “My town is a very small town, like a hummingbird. In the area, there is a species of hummingbird in danger of extinction. The town is also in danger of extinction. The people understand this metaphor.”

Engineers Without Borders joined the effort to help the Peruvian town last year, when one of Chavez’s students mentioned the project to the group’s president. If members can raise enough money, the organization will send several students to Chirimoto in January to assess what needs to be done.

Tickets for the October 18 BU Engineers Without Borders fundraiser, at 6:30 p.m. at the Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary’s St., are $50 per person, $40 per person for two or more tickets. To buy tickets, click here.

Jessica Leving can be reached at jleving@bu.edu.