Sometimes we take the littlest things for granted like a simple cup of clean water, an issue millions of people struggle with the world over. Engineers Without Borders devotes their time to making a difference, especially with regard to helping less fortunate communities build up their infrastructure so they too can enjoy the most basic amenities. Worldwide volunteers like Teva friend, Brian Clark do the heavy lifting so we caught up with him to talk about his latest experience in Luanda, Kenya.
Engineers Without Borders sounds like a great organization. Can you tell me a little more about how you got involved in helping out?
My father is one of their advisors and he works with the university and has for about twenty six years as the Associate Dean for the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. Before that he was in the Peace Corps for six years. It sounded like a great opportunity so I volunteered and it was awesome!
So what typically happens on a trip like the one you just went on in Rwanda?
It starts by being introduced to an under privileged community through the national branch or the local chapter here in Santa Barbara. Elders in those communities go through a formal approval process and identify a specific part of their infrastructure where they need help. We come in and help with improving their water purification systems or helping wire electricity for clinics.
This year we were tasked with setting up a water distribution system for a well that was drilled last year close to the main part of Rwanda. We took the project from start to finish first by surveying the land and then drilling the well. A lot of the local community is also employed to work; in fact, once we got to Rwanda we employed close to fifteen and up to thirty people a day.
What are some of the key aspects of the trips?
We want to make our work sustainable, that is, we want to source materials from close to the job sites so if something needs to be replaced or repaired we can easily make that happen. Another great part of these trips is the training of local people to maintain and run the system, as well as how to fix it.
We assume a lot more innovation comes as a result of adaptive reuse or working with what’s there versus what you might find in a more Western community. It almost sounds like your doing things the right way, how infrastructure should originally be set up but we’ve been so accustomed to certain resources being so readily available.
Absolutely. My background is in construction and I’m very familiar with the standard practices and materials in the states. It’s challenging once we get to another country to try and work with something that should be easy, like a pipe fitting. We end up using a lot of local techniques to fix those types of problems. A few of the elders sometimes find it challenging to adapt to new ways of doing things but we’re there to find a happy medium and to educate their community.
You were able to bring some Teva shoes down there for the community, right?
We brought down a hundred pair of shoes for the community and that made everyone so happy. A lot of the kids are walking around barefoot and having shoes protects them from parasites and other things they might catch. We really appreciated that donation; it was such an important part of the trip.
Are there any other stand out memories or stories you’d like to share?
Firing up the well after hooking everything up and seeing the water pour out was huge. People were coming up to us the whole time; they were so happy. Handing out the shoes at the clinic was also really memorable. I’d never done anything like that.