Volunteering for Impact

In recognition of April being National Volunteer Month, we are delighted to introduce you to Eset Alemu, P.E., M. ASCE, Past-President of the EWB-USA Puget Sound Professionals Chapter and current Co-Lead of the chapter’s Nicaragua program, and Jim Curren, P.E., an Engineering Service Corps volunteer.

Eset Alemu

As an Ethiopian native, a country known for its superb coffee, the beauty of Eset’s participation in a project designing a wastewater treatment and coffee bean processing facility in Nicaragua was not lost on us.

“I’m driven to work on small-scale projects that can be maintained by communities and provide the building blocks that allow them to grow and empower themselves,” says Eset. These are the values that drove Eset to become a civil engineer, and are the very same values that keep her engaged as an EWB-USA volunteer.

Eset moved to Seattle for graduate school, where she completed her civil engineering degree in water resource planning. Growing up in Ethiopia, Eset was struck by the role civil engineers played in advancing her country’s development in transportation, energy and infrastructure and that set her on her life’s journey to engineer change in places that need it most.

While working on the coffee project in Nicaragua, Eset said she was struck by the similarities between the communities and the people in Ethiopia and Nicaragua. “I felt like I was in my grandma’s town, but in a different country,” she says. Providing communities with a leg up in the form of clean, drinkable water and assistance with their coffee processing was one of her proudest engineering moments.

Actively involved as a mentor and volunteer in her community, Eset has been an engaged member of the ASCE Seattle Section and our EWB-USA Puget Sound Professionals Chapter since 2008. Over her ten-plus year engineering career, Eset has also mentored students at Seattle University and worked alongside her local EWB-USA student chapter and Addis Ababa University faculty to design an orphanage near Addis Ababa.

EWB-USA has been an anchor for Eset. “There’s always something that I can learn, people I can talk to and learn from. And, there are always more challenges and ways that I can contribute,” she says.

Eset believes the best way to work is “when your heart and soul is in the purpose of the project.”

We agree.

Jim Curren

Jim Curren has contributed his considerable engineering skills and a year and a half of his life to helping the people of the tiny island nation of Dominica rebuild after Hurricane Maria. The hurricane devastated the island, with 175 mile-per-hour winds blowing the roofs off 90 percent of the island’s structures.

What motivates Jim is knowing that his expertise can make a real difference in people’s lives by making their homes more resilient, as well as the sincere appreciation he receives from the community members he works alongside.

On the subject of volunteering, Jim says, “It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do. I kept postponing it. I think a lot of people want to do it, but they’re just afraid to take the plunge.”

But plunge Jim did. First he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, and now he works with EWB-USA on a myriad of projects. Since joining EWB-USA in 2014, Jim has served on the Southeast Technical Advisory Committee, reviewing and advising on more than 40 projects. He also participates in the EWB-USA Washington DC Professional Chapter.

Jim says that it is this work, the work he’s done since retiring after 40 years in the engineering field, that are the highlights of his career. These highlights include his work in Dominica, where he has been instrumental in training workers to assess structures and in revising building codes to standards able to withstand the next hurricane.

“I encourage people to volunteer and I believe you get back more than you put out,” says Jim. That’s saying a lot for someone who has contributed so substantially.

Jim and Eset are part of our valued community of volunteers building a better world. You, too, can make a difference in bringing critical infrastructure to communities in need! Take the first step today by filling out our Volunteer Interest Form >>

About the Author
Engineers Without Borders USA builds a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.