Engineers Without Borders at UCSB may have attracted a few more members with homemade soup and alarming statistics at its Friday kickoff dinner.
Mechanical engineering staff members David Bothman and Mary Dinh, and materials graduate student William Martinez started a local chapter of EWB-USA last fall. Growing membership encouraged the group to hold an inaugural dinner at the Engineering II Pavilion that would let potential members know about the UCSB chapter and allow national EWB-USA founder William Farr to give a talk. Over 50 people attended the event, including a dozen existing EWB-USA members.
EWB-USA is a national group built on local chapters whose mission is to improve the quality of life of people living in third-world countries, Farr said. The group relies on volunteers to provide engineering skills and labor that improve critical infrastructure such as water distribution systems and waste removal systems.
Many people in developed countries take clean drinking water and sanitation for granted, but much of the world does not have these necessities, Farr said. He said average industrialized countries have about 20 acres per person, while India has only 2.6 acres per person, and that the greater population density of poorer countries contributes to the rapid depletion of their natural resources.
Farr said that his inspiration for starting EWB-USA came from seeing a huge discrepancy between the lifestyles of people in first-world and third-world countries.
“I am an industrial engineer that has been providing things to the one billion that already have a bunch of stuff,” he said. “Well, what about all the other people?”
Farr said that the footprint of a person is metaphorically how much energy and natural resources they consume.
“I got out of school and went straight to the corporate world. I didn’t even have time to think about the footprint I was creating,” he said. “Reduce our footprint. That is the key.”
Farr said that effort spent creating frivolous gadgets and ornaments could be better spent providing clean drinking water to the 1.2 billion people who currently drink from contaminated sources.
“Increase, nourish and enhance life on earth – wow. Can we do that?” Farr said. “Yes!”
EWB-USA member Carl Neufeld, who also spoke at the dinner, said EWB makes more of a difference than some other groups because the participants do the work directly instead of just donating money.
“EWB is a new way to attack these problems,” Neufeld said. “We want to help achieve a more sustainable world.”
Not all EWB-USA members travel abroad to the project site, Martinez said. Some members travel in order to perform the actual building, while others stay here and plan out solutions on paper. In addition to engineering students, EWB-USA is also in need of other skilled students and professionals wanting to help.
“We need business students, cultural students,” Farr said. “We need more than just engineers.”
There has been a lot of interest from students and professionals around the world, Farr said. There were only four universities represented at the 2002 national conference. In 2003 there were 26, four of which were UC campuses.
“We have not yet done any advertising, and still I get two to three calls a week from universities all over the world,” Farr said. “The takeoff phase is now. We are growing too fast, and we need full-time administrative people to keep us on track.”
Francisco Bloom, a graduate student in materials, said he had not known much about the group before he attended the meeting, but found the meeting very informative.
“You get to realize what the group does,” he said. “I guess I am more interested in the engineering aspect.”
EWB-USA member Vanni Lughi said that the local UCSB chapter is currently planning to build a water system in Thailand and another in Peru. The chapter is awaiting approval from EWB-USA and financial contributions from donors in order to proceed and seeking volunteers to organize fundraising activities.
For more information, see the chapter website at http://www.engineering.ucsb.edu/~ewb-ucsb.