June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.298.1 - 14.298.6
Building Trust During International Development Work: A Case Study of a Recent EWB Project
For over a decade, engineering students have traveled to developing countries to assist in local development efforts through groups such as Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW). These efforts are well meaning, are often beneficial, and reflect the reality of the interconnected global community. However, inherent disparities between the visiting students and host community, including differences in wealth, education, and cultural priorities, illuminate a debate regarding the appropriateness of such projects.
Riley, for example, questions whether the allocation of significant resources for student travel to project sites in developing communities is justified; whether the benefits are mutual between the visiting students and the local community; and whether a loose collection of even hundreds of small-scale volunteer engineering projects can effect necessary development in poor nations1,2. Riley and others further raise the point that international development work, including with engineers, must be done in cooperation with, and not simply for, the recipient developing community3,4. Some argue that funding agencies should remove contingencies that specify procedures that are conventional in the rich world, but inappropriate for developing communities; instead, funding allocated for developing communities should allow local designation and specifications5. In particular, technologies that are truly appropriate are generally simple and can be understood and maintained by the local recipient community3,6.
With reasonable awareness of these questions and issues, we reflected upon our motivations, usefulness, and impacts as members of a new EWB chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). We recently completed our first project in the small village of Quejchip, in the northwestern highlands of Guatemala. Quejchip’s potable water comes from natural mountain springs located at various elevations throughout their village. As the village’s population of 460 residents grows, they will inevitably build new homes and move up the mountainside. In 2007, the village purchased a spring at the highest altitude available in hopes of building a distribution system for the upper part of the village located above the existing water system. After our initial site assessment visit in June 2007 and a year of subsequent planning and designing, our EWB student chapter returned to Quejchip in June, 2008 to build a water distribution system fed from the newly purchased spring. These visits and related activities were funded by the UWM Student Association and several other fundraisers organized by our membership.
We agree that there are many problems associated with engineering students performing work in developing communities, and that there is a profound need for greater institutionalization of engineering efforts that are focused on serving impoverished and developing communities6. However, we also realized that groups such as ours can, in fact, play a critical role for some communities as long as some of the basic tenets of
ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015