Skip to main content

Aggies Without Limits continue 18-year legacy of helping impoverished communities

An overheard conversation at the grocery store led New Mexico State University’s Aggies Without Limits to embark on their largest project ever: a potable water system serving more than 1,000 people in Guatemala.

Former AWL President Adriana Erives heard the conversation and pursued it. This led some 30 AWL participants, students, alumni, community members and faculty, to Nueva Esperanza, Guatemala. After a year of planning and fundraising, in May 2023 AWL worked a little more than three weeks in the town and left it with 52 spigots providing fresh, clean water.

“About a thousand people are spread out in a beautiful little valley,” said Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering Technology Kenny Stevens, adviser to AWL. “The nearest source of water was a creek, perhaps two kilometers away.”

But there happened to be a spring in the mountains above town. The AWL crew devised a plan to tap the spring, pipe the water into storage tanks and into a system of spigots at one of every four houses, the school and the community gathering area.

“The one thing that made this fun and challenging was the spring,” Stevens said. “It was an amazing spring—about 50 gallons a minute. But it was in a cave.”

There’s no electrical power to pump the water, solar power was out of the question as was gas. The townspeople worked many months clearing rocks to lower the entrance a bit in preparation for AWL to arrive.

As the cave sometimes floods, everything had to be secured. The AWL group hung cables from the ceiling, making twists and turns to get the pipe out of the cave.

Another challenge was getting the pipe and 90-pound cement bags to the area, as well as five 700-gallon storage tanks.

“We hiked miles, just taking pipe and cement. We had to hike far into the jungle. It wasn’t just walking straight, up and down, and it was hot,” said Taylor Rose Lee, a chemical engineering junior. Lee’s father, Jarod, a civil engineering alum, joined the group for the project.

The pipeline led from the cave to storage tanks closer to town and crossed four rivers.

“So, there’s problem solving and experiential learning. One of the pipes breaks. We have to figure it out,” Stevens said. “There were about six of us, two civils, two mechanicals and two chemical students talking in camp one evening. Then I said, ‘I think it’s Bernoulli’s equation.’ The two female chemical engineering students asked, ‘Did you just say Bernoulli’s equation?  We had that in class last semester and have no idea what that really means.’ And guess what? We figured out how to use Bernoulli’s equation so that we could fix the pipe.”

Finally, it was time to open the spigots in town.

“We opened the valve, nothing. Waited a day, nothing. We inspected the work, went over measurements and by chance saw an almost imperceptible bubble,” Stevens continued.

Air had gotten into the line and the water couldn’t pass. Someone made a pinhole with a Swiss Army knife and suddenly water came gushing out.

They opened the spigots in town again and the flowing water was received with dancing, clapping and crying. The people put their hands into running water for the first time.

“The people had to hike up a hill and carry heavy water on their heads. It was so hot and they looked so tired. I’m glad that that’s not a struggle that they have to go through anymore,” Lee said.

Along with fresh water the group brought school supplies and 100 pounds of books in Spanish for the children of Nueva Esperanza. Several students from the College of Health, Education and Social Transformation led this effort.

“You say the word school and little kids were excited,” Stevens said. “Every kid from, I don't know, 20 miles around shows up at the camp and they each get a book. Every night there would be reading time. The volunteers would sit down and kids would gather around them.”

“Their native language is a dialect of Maya—Q’eqchi, but they learn Spanish in school. They were so excited to learn more about Spanish and how to read in Spanish rather than their native language,” Lee said. “They were all so excited to have a book. There were times where they would teach me some phrases in Q’eqchi and I would teach them some phrases in English. We kind of were teaching each other a little bit about each culture, which was sweet.”

Stevens and his cadre of helpers have spent the past 18 years doing projects in third-world countries, as well as in Las Cruces and surrounding communities. Why do they return year after year to do back-breaking work, sleep in tents on the ground, without bathroom facilities?

“Nothing keeps you young, like hanging out with a bunch of 20-year-olds in the jungle,” Stevens said. “It’s an endorphin rush that is hard to duplicate. You go someplace for three weeks and the day you leave you’re in tears. Not just me, but the students are just weeping because they made friends with this little kid or they helped that woman at her house.”

“I went to help people,” Lee said. “It gives you a new perspective on life. You gain things as a person. It’s about giving things to people who don’t have what you have. The USA is such a privileged country and you go to these other countries and you realize that we’re just so lucky.”

The AWL group receives financial donations from generous supporters and what that support doesn’t cover, they earn themselves. This trip cost approximately $40,000, about half of which was earned by students. AWL members are available for odd jobs, moving furniture, landscaping and yard work. They may be contacted at

To learn more about AWL, visit

A video of their experience in Guatemala can be found at