Canadian Engineers Tackle Poverty in Developing Nations
The Globe and Mail, Friday, May 25 2007
By Chad Hamre
Engineers are not intimidated by problems. In fact, they love nothing more than to sink their teeth into a juicy one. In our diverse field, this is what unites us.
The problem that consumes my mind is perhaps the most complex, urgent and daunting of them all: extreme poverty. I won’t bombard you with depressing statistics about education, health and famine —you have heard them all before. It suffices to say that life for those living in extreme poverty is characterized by a daily struggle to support oneself and family.
Yet I remain optimistic. Rather than looking at the situation as a tragic burden, I think of it as our generation’s greatest opportunity to drive meaningful change. My degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Saskatchewan has launched me into a career that seizes this opportunity for change:
- In the Philippines, ICT Training Centres are providing disadvantaged youth with the opportunity to develop valuable skills to contribute to their community and improve their lives.
- In Haiti, gravity-fed water systems are effectively quenching the thirst and improving the health of thousands of families.
- In Zambia, business is booming and the private sector is developing to serve the needs of majority rural population profitably.
None of these are individual accomplishments. They are all projects that I had the opportunity to work on with Engineers Without Borders during the past five years. They are the results of thousands of engineering students and professionals across Canada who are dedicated to seeing an end to extreme poverty, and who are working in partnership with developing communities around the world.
Engineers Without Borders believes that technology, when appropriately incorporated into each community’s social, cultural, economic and political context, can drive extraordinary change. To date, over 200 EWB volunteers have worked with developing communities, helping to build technical knowledge and skills among local organizations, spreading innovation and sustainable solutions to the challenge of poverty. In Canada, over 20,000 EWB members raise awareness about the roles of Canadian engineers, the general population and government in poverty alleviation.
In the past, engineers with a zeal for contributing to development were left on their own, working on a short-term project over a two-week holiday or making ad-hoc contributions. But as the new Boeing A380 was not designed and built by moonlighters, taking a bite out of extreme poverty requires committed professionals with career-long timeframes and goals.
My colleagues and I are engaged in challenging and fulfilling careers with Engineers Without Borders. Our work combines the thoughtfulness of advanced-level academics with the focus, rigour and pragmatism of the private sector.
Our work is gaining national and international recognition for our innovative approach. This leads me to believe that one day, in the near future, a Nobel Peace Prize will be presented to an engineer for his or her contribution to poverty alleviation. Not because the problem of poverty has a technical solution, but because solving it will require a pragmatic, structured approach, along with strong problem-solving abilities. This approach, an engineering approach, can lead to effective, sustainable change.
Chad Hamre is currently posted in Zambia with Engineers Without Borders Canada and is the recipient of the 2005 Canadian Engineers’ Awards Student Gold Medal.