Student Blog: Empowering communities in Nepal

Lucy Nepal
Tuesday 6 March 2018

My name is Lucy. I study the Bachelor of Engineering (Hon.) and the Bachelor of Science, heading into my third year in 2018, and I’ve always been interested in doing something practical with my degree.

In December, 2017, the opportunity arose for me to both visit Nepal - a country I really knew nothing about - and do something with a group of engineering students from across the country.

The program was a Humanitarian Design Summit, run by Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which was a two-week taste-test of the kind of thing EWB does around the world. EWB is a non-profit organisation that focuses on empowering communities in need both in Australia and abroad using sustainable humanitarian engineering approaches to projects to help improve the community life quality.

We started in Kathmandu, the capital, for workshops to prepare us for our village stays. The workshops were very focused around flexibility, and working around the community’s needs – the last thing we wanted to do is impose our idea of a solution for our idea of a problem onto the people without hearing what they wanted and needed first. We worked on our communication skills, and how to best find out what the community needed, before we headed off to Pokhara.

From the city of Pokhara, we were split into three teams, which then went to three different villages in the region. I went to the stunning village of Ghalel in the Annapurna Conservation Area.

Within our village, we split up further into three teams, all tasked at investigating different areas with potential problems that we’d highlighted in the first day, by talking to locals with the translators. From here, the three groups (looking at farming, water, and animal shelters) furthered their knowledge by talking to community members directly invested in the areas of interest.

I was part of the group looking at improving the quality of the animal shelters. We’d learned from the locals that the shelters (simple tin sheets on sticks) was inadequate at keeping the buffalo warm, which affected their milk production, which was one of the few sources of income for the village. An obvious solution to us was to enclose the shelter – but due to the lack of resources and income this wasn’t feasible, so we went through a process of design focussing on the constraints within the community to get our final product.

When we returned to Pohkara, we presented our prototype to the representatives from the village: we’d created an insulation panel made entirely of locally sourced, mostly free, materials. This was well received by the locals, and we were able to teach them how to make it for themselves.

The program offered me a wealth of experience, both academically and socially – I have made contacts across the country, as well as added a whole new dimension to my studies in the form of humanitarian engineering, which I hope to further involve myself in. The summit is an opportunity I recommend for anyone with an interest in humanitarian approaches, design and development, or anyone who wishes for a new experience with wonderful people – hands down one of the best ways to explore your passions.

 

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