Friday, 31 January 2014

The Student Impact: Engineers Without Borders

Clothes Line
Photo provided by Rebecca Kresta

Waking up to the sounds of nature devoid of any big city bustle was a part of Rebecca’s routine this summer. Having lived in Canada all her life, Rebecca found the rural peace in Malawi both beautiful and inspiring. Spending the summer in a country that spoke a different native language than hers did not intimidate Rebecca, in fact two weeks in Malawi and Rebecca had already started picking up bits and pieces of the local Chitibumka language.

Rebecca’s experience last summer was made possible by the Junior Fellowship (JF) Program at Engineers Without Borders (EWB). EWB is a Canadian not-for-profit that was formed in 2000 that aims to eliminating poverty. The group sees itself as “a social change incubator for people, ventures and ideas.” And it is because of the EWB’s belief “in sparking and accelerating systemic innovations in Canada and Africa that have the potential to disrupt the systems that allow poverty to persist” that students like Rebecca are eager to join.

Across Canada, EWB has many student and professional chapters, and one of these chapters exists at the University of Alberta.  Every year the U of A chapter sends one to two Junior Fellows to work on EWB’s venture programs in Africa. Last summer Rebecca Kresta was lucky enough to be one of the students selected. 

Rebecca has been a part of the U of A student chapter for a couple of years now. Finding a place on campus where students could discuss and tackle social justice and human development issues was one of the reasons why Rebecca had joined EWB. The U of A chapter allows its members to work on: advocacy campaigns aimed at government (such as the campaign to end tied aid programs in developing nations); youth outreach initiatives that allow members to educate children about the complexity of international access to water, food, and energy; creative global engineering awareness activities, such as National Engineering and Geosciences month or case study projects for class; and (as anyone who has happened to walk through ETLC on a Friday will know) fair trade promotions. Because the U of A chapter offers such a broad set of involvement options everyone is able to find their niche within EWB. And for Rebecca finding her niche meant venturing to another continent.

Malawi Market Place
Photo provided by Rebecca Kresta

Rebecca was placed in Malawi with the WatSan (Water and Sanitation) venture. WatSan works across Malawi to shift the rural water and sanitation hygiene sector from projected approaches to a service delivery model. Rebecca was helping WatSan tackle ways to make the district water offices become effective by working with all their stakeholders. While there, Rebecca met with a range of organizations and individuals from Unicef and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation– she also got a chance to meet the President of Malawi – Joyce Banda.

U of A Engineers Without Borders
Photo provided by Rebecca Kresta

Since her WatSan team worked on a stringent budget of $150, part of Rebecca’s work involved helping manage the budget wisely. Her team was also working on improving ways the water pumps were maintained and repaired by working together with the local area mechanics and the community – thereby helping make the community more self-sufficient.

U of A Engineers Without Borders
Photo provided by Rebecca Kresta

While there Rebecca lived with two different host families, and got to experience living with a big family for the first time. Once she got settled, she found herself to be happier and content after establishing both a routine and a new social circle. Her host families played a major role in her new social circle and while she also made new friends in the community, she has continued to stay in touch with members of her host families since returning home. 

Rebecca knew that she wanted something more from her university career than just school, and wanted to work with people who were motivated to make change – passionate people, and this was one of the main reasons why she applied for the JF position. 

The Junior Fellowship program applications open during the Fall semester every year and students from all disciplines at the U of A are encouraged to apply (i.e. you don’t have to be in Engineering… all faculties are welcome to join). For more information feel free to talk to anyone at the EWB U of A chapter – the office is located in clubs hallway on the second floor of ETLC.

For other international learning opportunities, you might also want to check out the U of A's Education Abroad program.

You can also learn more about Rebecca's experience here.


About the Author

When I am not busy with engineering school, I love painting in abstracts. I am also a huge movie buff and will watch anything with zombies in it.

I would like to share stories that are personal and reflective of the great community we have built here at the U of A. My experience at the university so far has brought forward a tremendous amount of personal growth, and I can’t wait to help share the wonderful stories and student experiences of this amazing university.


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