Vol­un­teers bring­ing hope... and light

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Careers In Construction -

WE’VE all heard of Doc­tors With­out Borders, but here’s a cause you don’t so of­ten see em­bla­zoned on money col­lec­tion tins at train sta­tions: En­gi­neers With­out Borders ( EWB).

The or­gan­i­sa­tion sends vol­un­teers over­seas to work on projects in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

Step­ping away from cut­ting- edge tech­nol­ogy and big bud­gets, the en­gi­neers gen­er­ally as­sist with sim­ple tech­nolo­gies to pro­vide ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties like clean drink­ing wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and elec­tric­ity.

Di­rec­tor of cam­paigns and aware­ness, Todd Houstein, says their approach is to em­power lo­cals with the knowl­edge and skills to cre­ate pos­i­tive change within their com­mu­ni­ties.

‘‘ When we do a project, we don’t build it our­selves - we pro­vide ac­cess to the knowl­edge that the lo­cals need to do it them­selves,’’ he says. ‘‘ This way, they know how to main­tain it and have own­er­ship of it.’’

EWB also tries to en­sure their con­struc­tion projects use lo­cally avail­able ma­te­ri­als.

One of their on­go­ing projects is at the Cam­bo­dian School of Pros­thet­ics and Or­thotics. Since 2004, EWB vol­un­teers have been go­ing over to train the teach­ing staff to im­prove the stan­dard of in­struc­tion given to the stu­dents.

Me­chan­i­cal and biome­chan­i­cal knowl­edge needed to fit pros­thetic limbs and braces are the main fo­cus ar­eas.

‘‘ It’s very im­por­tant there be­cause of all the land mines,’’ Mr Houstein says. ‘‘ The course wasn’t quite up to the stan­dard re­quired to teach a uni de­gree in Aus­tralia or other de­vel­oped coun­tries.’’

In Nepal, vol­un­teers are work­ing with the Rural In­te­grated De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices to im­prove the qual­ity of life of peo­ple in the re­mote Humla re­gion.

One of the projects in­volves de­sign­ing smoke­less stoves for the res­i­den­tial huts.

‘‘ It’s cold in the moun­tains, and peo­ple liv­ing in the small brick huts light open fires in the huts which re­sults in a lot of smoke inside,’’ Mr Houstein ex­plains. ‘‘ The women and chil­dren are the ones who spend most of the time inside the huts. They have a short life ex­pectancy be­cause of the smoke in­hala­tion.’’

EWB vol­un­teers de­signed smoke­less stoves with chim­neys to di­rect the smoke out of the houses. For light­ing, they de­signed small so­lar pan­els for the roofs of the huts to power ef­fi­cient LED light­ing.

‘‘ You see th­ese Nepalese women switch­ing on a light for the first time and the look of amaze­ment on their face,’’ Mr Houstein says. ‘‘ This is work that would not oth­er­wise be pos­si­ble with­out that help of the vol­un­teers that we send.’’

There are also sev­eral Aus­tralian- based pro­grams, mainly help­ing peo­ple in re­mote in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. One ex­am­ple is a waste man­age­ment plan for the Murra Murra peo­ple, 800km west of Bris­bane. It in­volves train­ing the lo­cals to clean up an old dump and de­vel­op­ing a fu­ture waste man­age­ment sys­tem.

Work­ers wish­ing to be­come vol­un­teers can choose place­ments as short as one month or up to a year or two.

Do­nated funds, of­ten from private en­gi­neer­ing com­pa­nies, cover the vol­un­teers’ air­fares. Part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions in the com­mu­ni­ties pro­vide meals and ac­com­mo­da­tion.

‘‘ They live in the com­mu­nity - live and eat like the lo­cals,’’ Mr Houstein says.

‘‘ All the costs are cov­ered and they get a small liv­ing al­lowance.’’ Most of the vol­un­teers are re­cent grad­u­ates, be­tween 20 and 35 years.

‘‘ Ev­ery per­son that has been sent over­seas comes back hav­ing had a re­ally amaz­ing, lifechang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ Mr Houstein says. ‘‘ It gives you a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the world.

‘‘ Some peo­ple, to be­gin with, have the in­ten­tion to go and do de­vel­op­ment work to help peo­ple. But once you ac­tu­ally go and ex­pe­ri­ence it, you prob­a­bly gain more your­self than the peo­ple we’re try­ing to help for a whole lot of rea­sons.’’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.