A World Without Borders

engineerswithoutborders

A World Without Borders

By: coopcom
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SFU students part of Engineers Without Borders' aid programs in Africa

Alfie Lau, Burnaby Now (published April 12, 2008)Photograph: Larry Wright/BURNABY NOW

Glynnis Hawe is the first person to admit she's not an engineer.

So how is it that the 22-year-old fifth-year history and political science major at Simon Fraser University is going to Ghana this May as part of the Engineers Without Borders junior fellowship program?

"The program specifically said you didn't need to be an engineer to apply," Hawe said.

"The first couple of years, they sent only engineers, but they realized there's more that has to be done than just building wells and schools. ... They wanted to send people with a lot of disciplines."

Hawe, who has to go to Toronto for training before she goes to Africa, hasn't been given her exact assignment in Ghana but she hopes to work in the northern part of the country, helping improve political participation.

"There are more than 200 administrative districts in that part of the country and most people don't vote or pay taxes," Hawe said.

"I hope to try to raise the importance of participating politically so that people can see how they can improve their own lives."

According to their annual report, Engineers Without Borders was started eight years ago, with a goal of engaging "a new generation of Canadians and the engineering profession in (the) fight against poverty."

The group has 33 chapters and 30,000 members, with thousands of active volunteers working on programs throughout the world.

Paul Carriere has been involved with SFU's chapter for the last three years and couldn't be happier to help send a non-engineer to Africa.

"I'm an engineering student myself, and I've seen instances where scientists have built the perfect pump or the perfect well," Carriere said. "But sometimes, scientists don't realize there are social challenges that have to be overcome."

For example, Carriere said engineers wanted to build a new water filtration and irrigation system for sustenance farmers in central Africa. Unexpectedly, to the engineers at least, the farmers wanted no part of the process, even if it would theoretically increase their yields.

"It was hard for the engineers to understand," Carriere said. "But when you're talking to farmers who are always on the edge, they just don't want to take a risk. For someone to come in, especially a foreigner, and say this is a better way, they're not going to always be receptive."

Sending well-rounded, multi-disciplined people became the focus of Engineers Without Borders and last year.

Hamdiya Abdul-Rahaman went to Zambia to work with a non-governmental organization, PROFIT, which stands for Production, Finance and Innovation Technology.

Abdul-Rahaman worked in the monitoring and evaluation systems department and came up with questionnaires that were distributed to local farmers and designed to help them increase crop yields.

"We interviewed over 200 different farmers and we wrote a huge report for PROFIT about their processes, what was working and what could be improved," she said.

What made the trip even more special for the 23-year-old, fifth-year political science and history major is that she was born in Africa and spent the first seven years of her life there.

"I was born in Ghana, and my family moved to Togo when I was two," Abdul-Rahaman said. "We lived there until I was seven, and we moved to Vancouver in 1992."

The trip to Zambia was Abdul-Rahaman's first trip back to the continent since coming to Canada, and living and working in the Zambian capital of Lusaka was an eye-opener.

"I didn't come from the big city so regionally, it was different," she said. "I have really fond memories of Africa. ... It's nice to see the progression Africa has made."

Carriere said Abdul-Rahaman's experiences have made it easier for the group to send more than just engineers.

"We've learned that it's better to send the best people there, not necessarily the people who can build wells, but the people who can help people use those wells. ... The goal is to send people with analytical minds who can work with the people there."

Part of Abdul-Rahaman's responsibilities include guiding Hawe and giving her successor an idea of what to expect.

"It will be different for Glynnis because I'm black and I look like most of the people there," Abdul-Rahaman said. "She's a Caucasian, and she'll have different experiences. I've told her that she'll figure it out, and it might seem difficult at first, but she'll be fine."

"Hamdiya told me that the people will be very friendly, and, no matter how much I prepare, I will make a cultural faux pas," Hawe said.

"But she also told me that people will still welcome me into their homes as if I'm family."

Hawe admitted to being a bit nervous about going to Africa for the first time, but her parents Daniel and Jana are very excited for her.

"My mom was telling random strangers about my trip," Hawe said.

"My dad, who used to be an RCMP officer, he's excited. But he wants to make sure I know the safety aspects and what I should be aware of."

The junior fellowship, which is unpaid and costs approximately $6,000 per participant, is funded in part by a wine and cheese event held at the end of February.

At that event, which also included wine tasting of Prospect Winery products, music by String Fever, Ashley Arden and the Justine Fischer trio, and a photo exhibit and talk by Christian Beaudrie on the work of Engineers Without Borders, Hawe saw almost all $6,000 raised in one night alone.

"It was a great success," she said. "I worked for about five months organizing it, and it came together very nicely."Hawe leaves for training in Toronto at the end of April and will fly to Ghana on May 6.

For more information on Engineers Without Borders, go to www.ewb.ca

Beyond the Article

Posted on January 12, 2011