Terri-Jane Yuzda

Students Harness Technology and Funding for International Development

Canada's Two-year-old Engineers Without Borders Gathers Momentum in Linking Student Energy with the Needs of the Developing World


The University of Calgary's Dr. David Irvine-Halliday, P.Eng., is becoming well known in engineering, academic and even mainstream circles for placing low-energy, environmentally friendly lighting in the developing world. His brainchild is the Light Up the World project, which brings white-light emitting diodes to life with wind- and pedal-powered generators, and it earned him an APEGGA Summit Award® for Community Service in 2000.

Dr. Irvine-Halliday's project began in Nepal, but today has spread to India and Sri Lanka as well. His picture and stories about his work have appeared in the national media.

Perhaps less known is the role Engineers Without Borders has played in Light Up the World. The largely student-run organization, which is dedicated to long-term solutions to the problems that plague the developing world, fully funded one Light up The World placement and partially funded two others in 2001. It also provided project cost support.

Project by project and country by country, Canadian engineering students are putting technology, donations and other funding, plus their own sweat and innovation, into making the developing world a better place. Their efforts are channelled through EWB, which two University of Waterloo students initiated three years ago.

EWB was operational by January 2001, and by the fall of the year both the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta had created chapters. Today EWB has more than 2,500 members involved in 20 chapters across the country. It's raised more than $250,000 and undertaken 40 overseas assignments for 21 projects in 15 countries. EWB has partnered with other non-government organizations, such as Care Canada, and helped sister organizations start up in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Tapping a Resource
Vidya Rangayyan, president of the Calgary chapter, encourages engineering students, engineers and industry to help keep the EWB momentum building. "The philosophy behind EWB is that engineers and engineering students are an untapped resource," she says. "We have the ability and the responsibility to advocate appropriate technology. And by applying our expertise and problem-solving skills, we can help developing communities gain access to the technologies that will improve their lives."

There are educational advantages, too, says Ms. Rangayyan. Students who join have "the chance to internationalize their degrees as they apply their science and engineering skills to the betterment of humanity."

Professional engineers get to share their knowledge and learn more about the role engineers play internationally. They also benefit by tapping the student power EWB provides, says Ms. Rangayyan, who is in her fourth year of a joint degree program in geomatics engineering and international relations. "APEGGA members have an opportunity to be a part of a young organization with a great vision, and through their involvement, we can all watch that vision turn to reality."

Guatemala Water Project Underway
In the highlands of northern Guatemala, that reality will be constant water for displaced indigenous Mayans, if the Edmonton EWB chapter has its way. Last spring, the chapter learned about the plight of the Mayans from Sombrilla, an Edmonton non-governmental organization.

After an intern visited the communities, EWB knew that the problem was not water cleanliness but lack of a constant supply. Now EWB and Sombrilla are partnering with a Guatemalan organization to "make sure that the goals of the local Mayan people are met through the implementation of current technologies," says Edmonton EWB President Paul Slomp. He's a civil engineering student specializing in water resources and soil mechanics.

The three partners are searching for a fourth group, a non-governmental organizational in Guatemala that specializes in water collection and distribution systems. The hope is that one or two interns can head to the Central American country this summer to begin preliminary work.

"Another branch of the work, in its preliminary stages, is an integrated GIS/watershed modeling map for the communities," says Mr. Slomp. EWB is still working on funding sources and logistics for this phase.

"The plan is to have a working model of the region that includes the communities and their religious, social and political orientations, along with agricultural developments. With that information will be a model of the watershed, which will track water usage and the downstream effects of upstream non-organic farming and its fertilizers."

Working Together
In addition to their own projects, The Edmonton and Calgary chapters work together. They co-hosted, for example, a tour of the Canadian Centre for Mine Action Technologies in November (Tour Builds Awareness of World's Landmine Problem, The PEGG, January 2003).

Bridges with other chapters are also being built. A Western retreat in Banff last fall attracted 22 EWB delegates from the University of Calgary, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Victoria, the University of Manitoba and the lead organization, EWB Core.

U of C's Ms. Rangayyan says the retreat fostered communication between members, chapters and EWB Core. "This resulted in a greater feeling of connection between individual chapters and the national organization as a whole. And it resulted in a greater understanding of the vision of EWB and the goals of the organization, which are common to all chapters."

In fact, says Ms. Rangayyan, one "great idea" that came out of the retreat is that various chapters hold an EWB International Development Day, all at the same time. The goal is to use displays, activities and speakers to make university students more aware of EWB and international development.

More Information

President Paul Slomp
visit www.ewb-isf.org/ualberta/

President Vidya Rangayyan
visit www.ewb-isf.org/calgary/

EWB Core
visit www.ewb.ca

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