Engineering Students Spread the Benefits of Technology


University of Alberta
Student Contributor



“ Catch a fish for a man and he can eat for a day; teach him to fish and he can eat for a lifetime.”

How many times has this particular phrase floated across your desk or into conversation? Well, it’s time to add a new reason for using it, because this common phrase, though simple, sums up the broader goals of Engineers Without Borders.
The U of A chapter of EWB is a volunteer organization focused on using technology to help solve Third World problems. It’s part of a larger, national EWB that has grown to over 4,000 members since its beginnings in 2000.

Sustainable technological solutions are the emphasis of EWB. The organization has coined the term “appropriate technology,” EWB member Chris Germain notes, to help communicate what that means for EWB.

The technology doesn’t disrupt the lives of the local people. It is manageable and maintainable, and, if the team were to come back some years down the road, the implemented solution would still be at work and still be relevant to the lives of locals. There would still be people there who know how to maintain it.

At present the U of A chapter is at work on a project in the Ixil region of Guatemala. During the civil war in Guatemala, many villages were forced to escape and relocate to the semi-mountainous region of Ixil. Many of these villages are located on the slopes of the mountains, so water access is limited.

The rainy season of this region is 10 months long, but the water storage and collection methods being used pose health problems to villagers. EWB is taking the initiative to help solve this problem.

Currently, U of A EWB members are in the planning stages of this project and have teamed up with two non-government organizations.

And Event Info


Sombrilla is a local NGO formed by refugees from the Guatemalan civil war. It provides a helpful link between Edmonton and another of its chapters in Guatemala. Water for People is an American NGO involved in water issues around the world.

With the expertise of the three organizations, EWB is looking to make a significant impact in the Ixil region.

EWB has other roles in the project, beyond planning and following through with the actions that need to be taken. The organization sent two interns to the Ixil region last summer and is fundraising to send two more interns soon.

The first internship will focus primarily on a detailed study of the area, helping to determine the best water system for the villages. The second will focus on the final implementation of the system and on working with Guatemalan contractors to build the water system. Each intern will be in Guatemala for eight months.

Car Smashed for Cash

EWB members display the fruits of their labour after the car smash fundraiser in early January.

One EWB fundraising event was a car smash in early January. EWB had an old car brought to campus and charged $1 for each 30-second match – one person, one sledgehammer, one old and increasingly smashed up car. Funds from that event will go directly towards the internships.

In addition to the Guatemala project, EWB is active in the community helping to educate the public on its issues. The organization recently put on talks with local high schools. As well, EWB is holding an Engineers Without Borders Day on campus on March 4 (just as The PEGG goes to press) to help raise awareness.

Students and non-students alike are encouraged to join EWB and come out to its events.

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