Engineers Without Borders — Group

Auburn University, Auburn, AL

Photo of Engineers without Borders representatives

Tom Burch and Natalie Palmquist accepted the award on behalf of the Auburn chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is an organization of student and professional engineers dedicated to meeting basic human needs in developing countries around the world through applied sustainable engineering. The Auburn University chapter is currently working on systems that provide drinking water to students in the Kabaya sector of Rwanda and irrigation water for farmers in Quesimpuco, a village in Bolivia.

Sustainability drives and defines EWB’s work. Using an “appropriate technology approach” EWB limits itself to using only techniques, tools, and supplies available to the communities where the projects will be built. Also, EWB is committed to a “community-driven approach,” a design principle that puts the community itself at the center and forefront of decision-making.

These approaches reflect EWB’s values: a primary focus on building trusting relationships with communities, and respecting the talent and ability of community members to know and meet their own needs. EWB provides technical expertise and serves as a resource to facilitate and empower communities to create better living conditions. Collaboration and communication across cultural and language barriers are essential and can be successful only when trusting relationships have been established.

The EWB project in Quesimpuco has been in place for seven years and is approaching conclusion. In that time, the people of Quesimpuco have seen an enormous positive impact: farm fields that were consistently dry and arid have become lush and green, inspiring village elders to tag the EWB collaboration as the “Green Poncho Initiative.” At the end of the most recent implementation phase, community elders met with student leaders and faculty members to discuss replicating the irrigation system. Their next goal is to expand the project to cover all the mountain slopes and fields of the region with green, fertile fields. Nearby villages have seen the results and asked for similar assistance. To accomplish this, EWB is creating new partnerships in the region and is working with experienced Quesimpuco villagers to assist their neighbors in creating their own Green Poncho Projects. This new project is in its initial phases of implementation.

EWB projects produce benefits that extend beyond the communities themselves. The students and faculty involved feel like they gain more from the projects than communities do. They apply expertise in real-world situations that make a profound difference. They develop the relational skills necessary for meaningful collaboration and partnership. They develop an appreciation for other cultures, and they establish friendships that would not otherwise be possible.