CHOOSING to study chemical engineering, I suspected, would lead me into the oil and gas sector or pharmaceuticals – fields I, admittedly, was not overly passionate about. It wasn’t until this, in my third year, while doing a sustainability module that I realised just how varied the roles and responsibilities of being a chemical engineer are.
Having been to Malawi three times, twice while I was at high school and again this past summer, I have been made all too aware of the enormous inequalities and poverty that exists in sub Saharan Africa.
My previous projects in Africa, although undeniably life-changing experiences, weren’t exactly tailored to my abilities, and I felt I wasn’t making quite the impact that I wanted to. Luckily, through my university I became involved with SID (Strathclyde International Development), which is a student-based organisation that works under the umbrella of volunteer organisation Little Big Africa.
SID runs two projects annually for students, one in rural Uganda, with a focus on water sanitation and hygiene, and the other in Nepal, focussed on human rights. Being an engineer and learning about sustainability, I was naturally more attracted to the Uganda project. To cut a long story short, I applied and (luckily!) was chosen.
I (and three other volunteers from SID) fly out to Uganda on 9 June for training, followed by two months of work to improve the availability of water by building water tanks and protecting a water source, educating the local community and children in local schools on the importance of cleanliness and hygiene, as well as constructing fuel efficient stoves, which we will eventually teach local people to build themselves.
The main thing that initially attracted me to SID was the fact it employs mostly local people and really gets them involved in everything we do to ensure the longevity of the project. After the project is completed, we will hire and train project committees who will oversee the maintenance of our project, in order to ensure the project is sustainable.
Additionally, there is a real focus on sustainability and one of the main objectives of the charity is to use sustainable and natural resources so people can live in harmony with their environment. I believe this will benefit me too in future endeavours as it is key for all engineers to be aware of and mindful of future generations and the impact any decisions can have on them.
On a separate note, I think that being a female and an engineer (doing manual labour) in Uganda is something that is rarely witnessed. Previously when I was in Malawi, we visited a church and had to stand up and introduce ourselves: when I told the congregation I was training to become an engineer, all I witnessed was utter disbelief on each of their faces (once it had been translated). I hope that we (myself and the other female volunteer) can began to challenge these stereotypes in our local community and be role models for all the girls to pursue their desired careers.
I feel that being involved in such a sustainable project will not only benefit the people of these rural villages but also make me a more well-rounded and socially conscious chemical engineer. I firmly believe that my involvement in this project will stand me in great stead to help tackle some of the problems we face globally once I graduate. It is my belief that it is our duty, as engineers, to do all in our power to make the world a more sustainable and developed place.
Despite being a little bit nervous about my summer ahead I am definitely far more excited to see what it will bring. I am confident that the struggles I will undoubtedly face will make me more resilient and help me to face any hardships head on and enable me to acclimatise to foreign situations in my everyday life, not only from an engineering perspective.
There is some more information on our project on my fundraising page. Any help towards the project costs for this amazing charity are greatly appreciated!
Sinead will submit a second installment in August, to update readers on how the project is going.