Tufts Engineers Without Borders to begin five-year project in Tanzania

Tufts’ chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is currently planning a new five-year project in Tanzania, with the goal of improving rural water access.

According to Thomas DePalma, a sophomore and project leader, two EWB members will travel to Tanzania in January 2016 for an assessment trip. The members will visit different communities, meet with local non-governmental organizations and ultimately select a community to partner with.

The Tanzania project will focus primarily on improving access to water in EWB’s partner community there, according to DePalmaEWB also hopes to help the local community adapt to the Tanzanian government’s burgeoning rural electrification program, he said.

The group will consider adding charging stations to the community, educating teachers about use of technology in their schools and helping residents learn to use cell phones for educational and informational purposes, DePalma added.

“We’re hoping to help the community that we choose to work with adapt to [electrification],” he said. “[Our emphasis is] not just [on] engineering projects but also [on] cultural projects [and] helping…with the social adjustment that comes with electricity.”

DePalma said that EWB began planning its Tanzania project this semester under the guidance of Roger Stillwater, the group’s professional mentor. Tufts’ EWB recently completed a project in Uganda but decided to relocate its efforts to Tanzania because it determined that it would be safer to work there than in Uganda.

Aaron Forrest, president of Tufts EWB and one of the EWB members who had gone to Uganda, said that the Uganda project was largely successful.

In Uganda, members of the group built a solar-powered automated pumping system that pumped water into a tank, reducing wait times for villagers from several hours to a few minutes, according to Forrest.

DePalma said that he intends to apply lessons from Uganda to the new project in Tanzania. The largest challenge in Uganda was effective communication with the residents, he explained.

According to Forrest, Tufts EWB tends to focus on water resources, with its past few projects concentrating on rural water access. DePalma attributes this to the diverse skill sets of the chapter’s members.

“We’re not all engineers,” he said. “We have a lot of community health people, a lot of economics [and international relations (IR)] majors and engineers as well. We have engineers that design the project, we have community health people that can run the water testing [and] we have economics […] and IR majors who can communicate with local authorities.”

According to Emma Inhorn, a junior and EWB fundraising co-chair, the group held a three-on-three basketball tournament on campus on Oct. 23 in order to help fund initiatives such as the Tanzania project. EWB plans to hold two more fundraisers this year, she said.

Inhorn explained that although revenue from the fundraisers such as the basketball tournament are helpful, the primary goal of these events is to raise awareness for EWB and its mission.

“It’s not our main funding source, but it’s something that…a lot of [people] participate in,” she said.

According to Inhorn, most of the funding for EWB’s projects comes from grants, typically from the Dean of Engineering and Tisch College, as well as from EWB’s national organization. The group also plans to apply for additional grants both within and outside of Tufts.

In addition to the Tanzania project, Tufts EWB is in the process of concluding a project in El Salvador and has plans to start a new project in Nicaragua soon, Inhorn said. The proceeds from the basketball tournament and other fundraisers are split between the group’s various projects.

DePalma said he wants to learn about the culture in Tanzania before traveling there, which he hopes will allow him and other members to have more candid conversations with the community. He added that the biggest challenge for the students will be connecting with the people they meet and making them feel comfortable enough to talk about what they want and need.

“You can never really know what it’s like until you meet the people,” DePalma said.