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Blazing a trail

Engineers Without Borders Regina share their perspective

Frank Elechi
Contributor

The University of Regina chapter of Engineers Without Borders emerged as leaders of the 2010 Perspective Challenge at the end of the first round. This year’s challenge was about stimulating a creative way of fundraising to address the root causes of poverty. The competition drew 340 participants from 26 campuses and seven major cities across Canada.

The Perspective Challenge harnesses the skills and creativity of Canadian engineers to find practical and lasting solutions to one of the world’s most urgent problems – extreme poverty. Yasman Soofi, president of EWB Regina chapter, thinks this approach is special. “The EWB Perspectives campaign is very unique compared to other charity/Christmas campaigns.  We don’t donate goats or sponsor children. We believe in creating lasting change, not ongoing charity.”

The U of R has 13 perspective campaigns, or participants, which is lower than that of most other chapters, but has recorded significant success. Nine out of the 13 met the benchmark of total donations set for the first round, which is the highest for a single chapter.

Keith Arnstead said the source of his inspiration was his experience in Malawi as a volunteer. “I spent four months with EWB working in the water and sanitation sector in Malawi. I saw many failed subsidy-based projects – a donor or NGO [non-govermnent organization] going into a community to give handouts. People were concerned more with the ‘stuff’ than they were with the people.”

“I worked with a district government to try improving drinking water quality in communities. One day, we visited a village whose drinking water source was a stream – a stream from which you or I would never dare to drink. They had received handouts in the form of chemicals to treat their water. They were probably instructed with the benefits of the treatment, but it didn’t matter; they threw the chemicals away.”

Arnstead went further in his case for people-oriented solutions. “In that same village, we tried our new participatory program to improve drinking water quality. With the entire community present, people began to passionately propose their own changes to how they handled water, using locally available solutions. This approach provided safe drinking water without using handouts”

Some other perspectives EWB proposed are Building Opportunities, Assuming Poverty as an Engineering Problem, and A Network of Care.

A delighted Arnstead is not resting on his oars. “It really surprised me how fast I met my fundraising goal, thanks to all the awesome people who donated. This is the first online campaign I’ve ever tried and I am amazed and thrilled at how quickly I achieved it. That just means I set my goal too low, so I doubled it.”

The U of R’s EWB chapter is grateful to all the generous people that have donated. To view the perspectives by U of R contestants or to make donations visit perspectives.ewb.ca.

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