MIT student club, Engineers Without Borders, works with a local village in Tanzania | MIT News
Four students from the MIT Engineers Without Borders (EWB) club spent part of their summer in Tanzania to begin assessment work for a health and sanitation project that will benefit the entire village, and an irrigated garden for the Mkutani Primary School.
The club has worked with the professional Boston chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-BPC) since 2019. The Boston chapter finds projects in underserved communities in the developing world and has helped connect MIT students with local government and school officials.
Juniors Fiona Duong, head of the women’s health and sanitation team, and Lai Wa Chu, head of the irrigation team, spent two weeks over the summer in Mkutani conducting research for their projects. Chu needed to find more water supplies and a way to bring water from the nearby river to the school to use in the gardens they were planting. Duong was tasked with assessing the needs of people visiting the Mkutani dispensary, which serves as the local medical clinic. Juniors Hung Huynh, club president, and Vivian Cheng, student advisor, also made the trip to work on the projects.
Health and Sanitation Project
Duong looked for ways to help pregnant women with intimacy issues, as the facility where they give birth – the Mkutani clinic – is very small, with only two beds, and needs repairs and upgrades. level. Before leaving Cambridge, Duong conducted FaceTime meetings with government officials and facility managers in the village. Once in the field, she began to collect information and held focus groups with local women and other voters. She learned that one in three women would not give birth at the clinic due to privacy concerns and lack of modern equipment needed for high-risk pregnancies.
“The women said the most pressing need was water. Women had to bring their own water to their births. The rain harvesting system was not sufficient to meet their needs and the water in the river was not clean. When they were in labor, they relied on others to pick it up and bring it to the clinic on bicycles,” Duong explains. “With broken windows, the dispensary did not allow for privacy or sanitary conditions.”
Duong will also analyze the data she collected and share it with others before other MIT students travel to Mkutani next summer.
Agriculture, Sustainability and Irrigation Project
Before going to Mkutani, Chu conducted research on irrigation methods and water harvesting methods. She confirmed that the water in the river still contained E.coli and informed teachers that it would have to be boiled or placed in the sun for a few hours before it could be used. His technical experience in fluid dynamics was useful for the project.
“We also found there was a need for extra food for school, as many children lived too far away to walk home for lunch. The principal contacted us to build the garden, as the garden provides extra fruits and vegetables for most of the 600 students. They needed water from the river quite far from the school. We looked for ways to bring water to the garden,” says Chu.
The group plans to conduct an ecological survey of the area to see if there is another source of water so they can drill another borehole. They will complete their analysis and then decide on the best solution to implement.
“To see the hard work of the whole team pay off when the traveling team arrived in Mkutani was so amazing,” said second-year student Maria Hernandez, the club’s internal relations manager. “Now we are ready to get back to work so that we can start again next year. I love being part of Engineers Without Borders because it’s such a unique way to apply technical skills outside of the classroom and see the impact you have on the community. It’s a beautiful project that really impacts so many people, and I can’t wait to return to Mkutani next year.”
Both Duong and Chu hope to return to school and the clinic in the summer of 2023 to work on the implementation phase of their projects. “This project is one of the reasons I came to MIT. I wanted to work on a social impact project to help improve the world,” says Chu.
“I hope to go back next summer and implement the project,” Duong adds. “If I do, we will go during the most crucial two weeks of the project – after the contractors have started repair work on the dispensary, so that we can see how things are going and then help with anything related to the project. “
Duong and Chu said students don’t have to be engineers to help with ISF’s work — any MIT student interested in joining the club can. Both agree that fundraising is a priority, but there are many other roles students can play.
“MIT students shouldn’t be afraid to dive straight in. There’s plenty to do there, and even if you don’t have experience in a certain area, don’t let that be a hindrance. It’s a very rewarding job and it’s also great to gain international work experience,” says Duong.
Chu added, “The project may not look flashy now, but the rewards are great. Students will acquire new technical skills and also experience a new culture.