Engineers Without Borders
In 2008, I was selected to join a group of engineering students and a professional mentor affiliated with the University of Washington chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UWS) to travel to a very remote region of Bolivia, near the village of Yanayo in Northern Potosí to assist in the improvement of a dirt road that provided the only access for motor transport to the clinics, schools, and markets beyond the village. Working with our hands and a dumptruck, we built ditches, rock walls, and small rolling dips.
It was a transformative experience for me, something I describe a bit here. It opened my eyes to the very simple reality that a world outside of my own exists, even if I still interpreted the poverty and inequity I witnessed in cliched terms. But something still clicked - I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the the everyday experiences of life in a rural indigenous village with the stories of my father's village, three decades past in a land thousands of miles away that I'd never seen.
At the time, I was barely qualified to do anything - let alone pretend to be un ingeniero. Yet I continued to work with Engineers Without Borders, helping with the design of a rural water system in 2009 and managing a team of students who implemented a $25,000 addition to the road project in 2010.
The full report from that project, produced for our donor, is available here.
My work with EWB-UWS was a principal part of my motivation to create the Critical Development Forum and forced me to deepen my critique of the very well-intentioned voluntourism I had participated in. But I cannot escape the catch-22 of being grateful for having gone to Bolivia in the first place - without that experience, I may well have still been focused on engineering rocket ships for my extraterrestrial ambitions.