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21 Mar


EWB New Member Happy Hour

March 21, 2010 | By |

What does Engineers Without Borders do? Where and how does it work? I’m not an engineer; can I still become involved?  What exactly can I do?  For answers to these questions and more, you are invited to join us for our New Member Happy Hour next Saturday, March 27. Members of EWB-Grand River will be on hand to introduce you to our chapter and our work, and our Junior Fellow Elizabeth Logan will talk about her recent work with EWB in Ghana.

When: Saturday, March 27, 3:30 – 5:30 pm
Where: Huether Hotel (59 King Street North, Waterloo) in the Barley Works Boardroom

Ghanaian villagersAbout Liz: Recently, Elizabeth Logan traveled to Ghana to work in EWB’s ongoing ‘Agriculture as a Business’ project in cooperation with the Ghanaian Ministry of Food & Agriculture. Liz’s efforts not only helped African farmers pull themselves out of poverty, but are continuing to help enrich the experiences of our chapter. During her field tenure she acted as our eyes and ears on the ground relaying the challenges and successes of her work.  Since her return, she has continued to educate and inspire us to enhance the way we think as engineers and individuals in Canada.

For more information, please contact Alyssa or Stephanie through our contact page. See you there…

PS: Stay tuned to the website for a similar new members event next month in Guelph!

15 Mar


Water Complex

March 15, 2010 | By |

My flip flops slap against the ground as I call out “Desiba” (“Good morning”) to the women walking past on the narrow dirt path. Ahead of me, Rashida balances two giant metal containers on her head, while Zewera follows behind. We come over a small ridge and I find myself looking at a large pond. Rashida and Zewera continue down the slope to the water, where they hike up their skirts and wade in. They fill the two buckets with the milky-looking water and help each other hoist the containers back up onto their heads. They are strong – those buckets must weigh at least 100 lbs. As we walk the 8 minutes back to the compound, other women call out, laughing and asking me where my water is. I tried carrying a small bucket yesterday, but my head-balancing skills are definitely not up to par. Today I’ve elected to bring my camera instead (it’s one or the other – I spill too much water when I’m carrying it on my head to bring a camera!).

We arrive back at the compound and Rashida and Zewera skillfully pour the water from the tops of their heads into the giant clay pots that are fixed to the ground. Inside, the new water mixes with the old, left over from last night’s trip to the pond. Rashida takes an old tomato can from beside the pots, scoops up some water and takes a long drink. She refills it, then takes it over to where her 7-month-old daughter Failatu is sitting on a reed mat and holds the can for her to drink. Zewera does the same for her 2-year-old son, Mohammed Awa. Then the two women pick up their containers and head back to the pond for another load.

This scene, from the village of Gbabshie, is unfortunately common in northern Ghana. These two women will make the trip to the pond 4-5 times per day to supply this 11-person household with water. Luckily for them, it’s not a long walk – some women walk over 2 km to access water in the dry season. They will use this water for all of their household needs: cooking, bathing, drinking and washing. They know the water is not good, but they have no other choice. Mr. Iddirisu, the sole member of the household who can speak any English, says “we see the goats defecating near the water and we know it’s not safe. We need a borehole but no NGO has yet come.”

Iddirisu’s statement is indicative of the development culture in Ghana. Though they may try, the government of Ghana has not been successful at meeting the needs of its population. This is both an issue of resources and of capacity (more on that in later posts). As a result, the doors have been thrown open to NGOs, foreign development agencies and multilateral institutions to fill the gap. Ghana in particular has become a “development darling” thanks to its relative stability and support for foreign projects. Now there are literally thousands of projects operating here on all scales, from small local NGOs doing agroforestry projects, to multinational UN-funded campaigns to eradicate guinea worm. In many cases, NGOs are playing a role that would traditionally be filled by the government – hardly a sustainable model.

Let’s get back to the water problem in Gbabshie: the community needs a safe water source. It would be easy to come into the community, see the women and children drinking from this filthy pond, make a quick video appealing for donations from friends in Canada, and pay a local NGO to install a borehole. Bam! problem solved. But is it really solved? Let’s take a closer look.

Have you ever been given something for free? Maybe it was a bicycle, a phone, a book, just something that someone else didn’t want anymore. How much value did you place on this discarded item from your friend? Probably not much – it wasn’t worth much to him/her, so why should it be worth so much to you?

What about this: have you ever shared a resource with a large group of people? Maybe it was a common kitchen in your house, or supply of toilet paper in an outhouse at camp. What was the state of this shared resource after some time passed? Did you have to put some structure in place to manage the resource well? What incentives did you have to care for the resource, and how did you react to other people using it in different ways?

These two issues both come into play when discussing a village borehole: you’re giving something away for free to a group of people. Of course they will appreciate it – clean water! But how will they treat the borehole? Who will take care of it? Who will be responsible for paying for repairs? Who has priority over the water? It is common to come back to one of these villages a year later and still see women walking to the pond to get water. The borehole has broken down, and no one is responsible for paying for repairs, so they haven’t been done. Besides, why pay for repairs when any day an NGO might come along and repair it for free?

In the middle of the village of Gbabshie lies a testament to these issues. The women’s group here received a grinding mill several years ago. Now it lies in disrepair, covered in cobwebs (photo above). No one is willing to pay to have it fixed, so all the money the NGO put into buying and installing the machine in the first place has gone to waste.

These issues of sustainability are always prevalent in development projects. It is easy to fill an immediate need; it is much more difficult to change the institutional environment around that resource so that the change will be sustained. For a borehole, several conditions need to be in place. Someone needs to be responsible for managing that borehole, whether it is one person or a committee of people. Users need to contribute money for maintenance and repairs. For this to happen, people need to see value in having a working borehole, which means they need to be educated on water and health issues. When the borehole breaks down, skilled technicians need to be accessible to the community at an affordable price. Replacement parts must be locally available in a timely manner. People must know their rights and how to address the authorities if they are being taken advantage of. And NGOs must not continue to offer new things for free which undermine the existing system.

This example demonstrates the complexity of poverty and development. There are simple solutions, but there are no simple problems, so the simple solutions will inevitably fail. To address the complex problem of poverty, we need complex solutions that change the operating environment of development in Ghana. Institutional changes take time to produce, but the effect is long-lasting and the impact is much greater.

07 Mar


Change Agent Series presents Tal Dehtiar, founder of Oliberté

March 7, 2010 | By |

DISCLAIMER: This event is NOT hosted by EWB-Grand River or any affiliate and has been posted only as a service to the greater community. This posting does not imply in any way EWB’s endorsement of the event or information presented.

Change Agent Series: Tal Dehtiar, founder of Oliberté

March 18th, 2010 – 5:00pm to 6:30pm
Accelerator Centre
295 Hagey Blvd. – 1st Floor
Waterloo, ON
Free (Registration required)

Hot off the ‘heels’ of hosting EWB’s own George Roter, on March 18th, 2010, Capacity Waterloo Region is presenting Tal Dehtiar – the founder of Oliberté – as part of their Change Agent Series, which highlights the stories and strategies of social entrepreneurs whose ideas are making change.

 Oliberté, based in Oakville, ON, is the first company to market premium urban-casual footwear exclusively made in Africa. To Oliberté and its founder, Africa is “more than just poverty” with their product demonstrating Africa’s “pride, power and liberty”.

 Dehtiar will be coming to Waterloo to share his stories – including surviving CBC’s the Dragon’s Den – and business strategies for building his social venture. Also the co-founder of MBAs Without Borders, he believes you can create change – and help build lives – through a for-profit model such as employed with his company. Tal is a recipient of the 2004 Global Trader Award, the 2005 Arch Award, and a nominee for Canada’s Top 40 Under 40. 

 About Capacity Waterloo Region

Capacity Waterloo Region is a five-year pilot project to fuel social innovation. We’re working toward a future where a vibrant, resilient non-profit community is strengthened by leaders from all sectors working together to leverage resources and cultivate a social innovation “center of excellence” here in our region.


More Events

10 Dec


Ethical Travel Destinations: Ghana Ranks #4

December 10, 2009 | By |

On December 3rd, 2009, California-based released their 2010 annual report detailing the “world’s best ethical destinations” for travellers who want to have a great experience but also feel good about where their travel dollars are being spent. The report identifies the countries in the developing world that are “best protecting their natural environments, promoting responsible travel, and building a tourism industry which provides real benefits to local communities”.

“There’s no doubt that worldwide interest in mindful, responsible travel is growing – not only among travellers, but within the countries that host us,” says Jeff Greenwald, executive director of Ethical Traveler and co-author of the report. “Now is the perfect time for savvy travellers and well-intentioned governments to evolve together, each encouraging the other. This is especially true in the developing world, where travel and tourism can be developed as lucrative, low-impact alternatives to forestry, mining, and the destruction of ocean habitats.”

The report utilizes data from a variety of sources including the UN, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Millenium Development Corporation to develop indices for environmental protection, human rights and social welfare for each country.

The full report can be found here, but to spoil the surprise, the developing world’s Top 10 destinations include:

  1. Argentina
  2. Belize
  3. Chile
  4. Ghana
  5. Lithuania
  6. Namibia
  7. Poland
  8. Seychelles
  9. South Africa
  10. Suriname

Eligibility for ranking was determined by economic data from the World Bank. For example, in 2009, Croatia and Estonia made the Top 10 but are now considered “high income economies” and therefore became ineligible for this year’s ranking.

Most interestingly, 40% of the list is occupied by African nations, with Ghana reaching as high as #4.

Ghana joins the list for the first time due to an “impressive commitment to genuine democracy, as well as a growing culture of sustainability, environmental consciousness and grassroots efforts towards responsibly improving Ghana for Ghanaians and tourists alike.”

Similarly, South Africa landed in the #9 spot for “supporting eco-friendly, community-based tourism ventures, as well as for sustainable coastal development and environmental management.” Disparity between the rich and the poor and high crime rates in certain areas prevented the country from reaching a loftier rank.

Conversely, “irresponsible development, human rights abuses, and  lack of strong environmental [policies]” have prevented any Asian nations from making an appearance at all – a trend consistent in previous year’s rankings.

However, before African pride grows too much, the report also notes that none of the ranked countries are perfect. Notably, homosexuality in Namibia and Seychelles remains criminalized – generally a “deal-breaker” for the study. But as Greenwald and report co-author, Christy Hoover, note “the laws do not appear to be zealously enforced [and] we sincerely hope that our vote of confidence will persuade these country’s leaders to repeal these backward laws.”

With Ghana leading the African charge on this list and, as Erin Antcliffe notes in her post Water Complex, also being a “development darling due to its stability and support for [development] projects”, it appears development in Ghana is projected in the right direction. Hopefully it can act as an example for the other African nations in which EWB works and the continent as a whole.

31 Oct


EWB 2010 Wall Calendars On Sale

October 31, 2009 | By |

EWB’s 2010 wall calendar brings the perspective of our overseas work from our colleagues on the ground across Ghana, Malawi, Burkina Faso & Zambia.

The Engineers Without Borders 2010 wall calendar tells the stories of our colleagues on the ground across Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi & Zambia. In a unique piece unlike anything you’ve seen before, the stories are in their own words, and from their own perspective. We hope that you’ll share the calendar with as much pride as we had collecting the stories and producing it. The cost per calendar is $20

If you are interested in purchasing calendars for yourself, your family, friends or colleagues, please contact us. All proceeds support volunteers from EWB-Grand River overseas as they help in our African Programs.