Reconstructing Our World


In many parts of the globe there are people who lack stable facilities and unfortunately do not have the resources to build the infrastructures that they need.  Engineers Without Borders (EWB), USA division (EWB-USA), was founded in 2001 and is a non-for-profit organization comprised of primarily engineering students and engineers working to make a difference in developing nations. Today, the EWB–USA is comprised of over 12,000 dedicated members.  EWB has over 350 projects in over 45 developing countries around the world focusing on various concerns such as water, renewable energy, sanitation, etc. 

These projects are completed in partnership with local communities and non-government organizations (NGOs).  All EWB projects around the globe must partner with a non-governmental organization in their host country, which typically collaborates with one or more communities in need of services. There are many different facets to the EWB, as it also holds international conferences, regional training sessions, and other locally sponsored events.  The focus of the 2010 international conference, which was held in March 2010 in Denver, Colorado, reflected a reoccurring theme in the world today: sustainable living.  The conference discussed how the EWB engineers could incorporate sustainable alternatives into their construction projects; possible answers were found in the ideas of solar paneling, wind turbines, and pipes to conserve water.

Anyone can petition to start a new student or professional chapter of the EWB-USA.  Various chapters of the organization often capitalize on the expertise of anthropologists, educators, statisticians, sociologists, health professionals, and scientists to address both educational and technical aspects of the program. EWB is affiliated with many universities around the United States, and it is here that they recruit their main body of workers and volunteers. Kay Raethe, a member and volunteer of EWB-USA, has been to Nicaragua five times with the organization. Each trip to a country usually corresponds with one of three phases of a typical project: (1) Exploratory, (2) Assessment, and (3) Implementation. In Nicaragua, EWB partnered with an NGO to begin a new project by collecting initial information about the country's history, culture, political structure, etc., and choosing a small team to travel the country, talk to the NGO in person, and speak with the country's citizens and community members with whom they were going to partner with on the project. After this initial visit (the "Exploratory trip"), they selected one project from the many that the villagers and NGO expressed a need for, and began figuring out what information they needed to gather to be able to successfully design a system, structure, and anything else needed.  Upon returning to the USA, an organized design team used the gathered data and constantly communicated with the NGO and community for feedback before finishing a design.  EWB conscientiously ensures that the community is very involved in the construction and project from start to finish.  Even during the implementation phase of the project, both the EWB volunteers and the community get physically involved with the construction.  Raethe says, “The actual trip itself and hanging out with and learning from local communities is a breeze by comparison [to the planning and organization aspect], and certainly what makes it all worthwhile.”

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