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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Engineering with a cause

Creating, organizing and completing a fundraiser for trips that send groups across the globe may feel impossible for most student organizations. But for Engineers Without Borders,  making a difference for less-advantaged global communities facing issues such as unclean water supplies, a successful fundraiser is only the beginning.

The local EWB chapter is working toward a goal of raising enough money to send six to eight members to Kiritiri, Kenya this summer to assess communities in need of supplies, with the date to be determined.

Fundraiser Coordinator and Western junior Myann Refai has been a member of the nonprofit organization since summer 2015. While simultaneously studying manufacturing engineering and working for the engineering department at Western, Refai manages fundraising for the group.

Fundraising is crucial in making  the trip a reality, Refai said.

Compost-latrine project designed by the Northwest chapter of EWB-USA in Ghana in 2009. // Photo courtesy of Colleen Mitchell
Compost-latrine project designed by the Northwest chapter of EWB-USA in Ghana in 2009. // Photo courtesy of Colleen Mitchell

“It’s a baby, a brand new project,” Refai said. “Our first trip will be going to Kenya to check out, assess and survey what’s going on over there, communicate with the community and see how we can help them.”

Colleen Mitchell, president of the Northwest Chapter of EWB, has been the president of the chapter since 2015 but has been involved since 2008.

Mitchell said the chapter is currently merged with the student chapter of the EWB, which consists of Western, Bellingham Technical College and Whatcom Community College.

“Engineers Without Borders partners professionals with students to foster socially responsible engineers entering the workforce,” Mitchell said.

An engineer herself, Mitchell was a product engineer on their 2009 trip to Ghana for a composting-latrine project.

Mitchell said after arriving in Ghana, they found the assistance needed was different than what they expected. After learning the community was they were already on their way to having a healthy water supply, EWB decided on sanitation as the main starting point for helping the community.

“We talked about how we could help them with sanitation to help protect their water supply,” Mitchell said. “We offered to be advocates and answer any questions they might need for their water supply project but we didn’t want to step in and be involved with something they already had progress on.”

After assessing the situation in Ghana, Mitchell and her team returned to the states to design a Urine-Diverting Dry Toilet, a toilet that composts waste in order to more effectively kill pathogens, subsequently making waste safe to use as fertilizer. The toilet was created for a school in Ghana, according to the EWB Northwest Washington Chapter website.

“We came back [from Ghana] to analyze the data and survey information we got,” Mitchell said. “We are hoping to back in September to monitor the byproducts the community is getting out of it.”

Gearing up for their trip to Kenya later this year, Mitchell said the members of EWB will be meeting with different people to better assist communities in meeting their basic needs. This includes issuing health surveys, graphic surveys and talking with the Department of Agriculture.

After assessing the worksite, the group plans to return to build the projects to be decided.

Kevin Mcinnis, a second-year student at Bellingham Technical College, has been volunteering for EWB for the last three months. Mcinnis is still considering whether or not he will participate in the upcoming Kenya project.

“It would be interesting, [and] it’d be a whole world change,” Mcinnis said regarding whether he would consider going along for the upcoming project in Kenya.

Mcinnis said EWB does not hold a lot of fundraisers, but his upcoming goals is contacting the right people in order to secure the area surrounding Lake Whatcom for a 5K foot race, which will be an option on a day without rain during the summer.

President of the Northwest Chapter of Engineers Without Borders Colleen Mitchell chats at a fundraising event on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at Aslan Brewing Company. // Photo by Christina Becker
President of the Northwest Chapter of Engineers Without Borders Colleen Mitchell chats at a fundraising event on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at Aslan Brewing Company. // Photo by Christina Becker

Fundraising Chair for EWB Mark Stone said in addition to the 5K race, they are hoping to secure a brewery in Bellingham over the summer for another beer fundraiser similar to the one held at Aslan Brewing Company on Tuesday, Jan. 26. The event was organized by Refai and was a key event to help make the Kenya trip possible. Stone said EWB still needs a projected number of about $3,000 more for the work they plan to do in Kenya.

“It’s exciting for me to be able to use my knowledge and expertise to make a difference,” Mitchell said regarding past projects.

Elayna Sams, vice president of the student chapter of EWB, said she plans on attending the two- to three-week assessment period in Kenya at the end of June.

“I really liked the idea of having a bigger impact and the fact that Engineers Without Borders existed as an organization that would directly help communities really made me happy,” she said.

She said she hopes to take on the role of president at the beginning of the 2016 school year.

Sams said one of her main roles within the student chapter is fundraising and finding grants that can be used for their trips. Many of the grants they receive come from different private donors and foundations, Sams said.

Their blog, http://ewb-nwprofessionals-ghana.blogspot.com/ follows their trip to Ghana step-by-step.


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