Reflections on a premier project in Kenya
Students are not only the future of Engineers Without Borders USA, but also humanitarian engineering worldwide. Our university chapters take on some very influential projects, like the EWB-USA Arizona State University Chapter’s project in Kenya. Along with the other Premier Project Award winners, the EWB-USA ASU chapter set high standards for achieving their goals in Kenya.
The EWB-USA ASU chapter successfully restored a Bondo Rarieda dam in Kenya by improving the building technology rather than imposing completely new techniques. Local community members were included in the design of the project and learned from the professionally-developed reports and calculations. This dam project is part of a five-year commitment to improve and provide water supply sources for three rural communities near the Lake Victoria region of Western Kenya.
We sat down with Brittany Duong, the current EWB-USA ASU Chapter president, who led the award-winning project.
EWB-USA: How did you decide to join EWB-USA?
Brittany Duong: We were all attracted to EWB-USA because we want to empower people around the world through engineering. EWB-USA is an excellent opportunity to take lessons from the classroom and to apply those lessons to helping people meet their basic human needs. Not only that, but EWB-USA has a very supportive, fun and challenging learning environment.
EWB-USA: What was the biggest challenge and biggest reward of this project?
Duong: The biggest challenge was working around our community’s lack of resources; both material availability and construction knowledge. There are hundreds of thousands of things we take for granted here in the United States, like driving down the street to Home Depot for power tools. In Kenya we had to design and plan very carefully to make sure that the project could be completed and was sustainable.
The biggest reward is the lasting friendship we made with our community. We still keep in contact with one another regularly via email and Facebook. Part of EWB-USA’s mission is to foster responsible global leaders, and we were able to build a global community through our relationship with our partnering community. A large part of the success of our project was because our relationship to the community was based on respect and trust.
EWB-USA: What is one piece of advice and one best practice you would give to someone else trying to accomplish what your team did?
Duong: We always tell students that EWB-USA is not a vacation to Kenya and something pretty you just add your resume. EWB-USA takes lots of hard work and dedication. The one best practice we have is keeping positive attitudes. Things worth doing aren’t easy things to do. If you keep a positive attitude and keep making progress, even if it is small progress, then there is no problem that you can’t solve.
EWB-USA: What makes your project team unique and what is one favorite memory you have?
Duong:Our project team is unique because every member is unique; we had the perfect combination of flavors to make the perfect dish. Our team has very diverse skill sets and life experiences: one member with medical and communication skills, one member with planning and financial skills, two members with hard mechanical engineering skills, and one member with hard civil engineering skills.
Just before we left, I asked a boy what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded, “Like you, an engineer.”
EWB-USA: At the end of the project, what did you take away from working with the community?
Duong: The community taught us our one best practice: having a positive attitude in the face of adversity allows you accomplish anything you set out to do. Our partnering community has visions of a more developed Kenya, and they have vast amounts of strength and courage to overcome the obstacles in their way. They inspire us.
EWB-USA: What does “engineer change” mean to you?
Duong: Engineering change refers to the knowledge transfer that went on between us and the people we were helping. Engineering change is designing projects that create positive feedback loops for communities to grow and to make their own positive impacts.