By Juliana Palomino
Embedded on the dirt floor of a schoolhouse deep in rural Malawi, Africa is the last thing you might expect to see—a University of Kentucky logo.How did it get there? The UK student chapter of Engineers Without Borders.
The EWB-UKY chapter began in 2009, and members dedicated themselves to improving lives around the world through engineering. Funded by donations, the group has worked in many countries, including their most recent efforts in Malawi. In late July 2018, three students, a UK professor, and a professional mentor journeyed from Kentucky to the southeast African nation, where they spent three weeks constructing a kitchen facility in a local schoolhouse. Nick Stamatiadis, Raymond-Blythe Professor of Civil Engineering and EWB-UK faculty advisor, led the trip.
“They had a small kitchen facility with essentially no roof,” he says. “When the rainy season began in September, they could hardly cook. Solving that problem was critical”
Why is a kitchen facility so essential to this Malawian school? Many local children eat their only meal of the day at the school, which receives money for the meals from international agencies. Since children may walk up to eight miles to school, they truly depend on receiving that food.
“When the meal isn’t present, attendance starts dropping. We hope that the short-term effect of our work will maintain or even increase school attendance,” Stamatiadis explains. “Long-term we hope to see the educational level of the area will improve.”
Devoted to the core EWB-UKY values of community involvement and engineering education, so the Kentuckians labored alongside the Malawians. Side by side they poured cement case, built a brick footing and walls, and built tresses to put beneath a corrugated steel roofing. They even left the UK logo in the floor as a sign of their commitment to the partnership.
As they worked, they taught Malawians many of their techniques. “We act not only as agents of change but also agents of knowledge. They can use this education far into the future,” says Stamatiadis.
For Aaron Cambron, a civil engineering student earning his master’s degree at UK, this summer marked his fifth trip with EWB-UKY.
“EWB is focused on relationship building. We will keep the conversation going and assess the structure’s usefulness long into the future,” he says. “We strive for a long-standing partnership, as opposed to bigger companies that may come in, drop money and leave.”
This partnership has impacted not only Malawi but the Kentuckians involved as well. Years of involvement with EWB-UKY have shown Stamatiadis the value it brings to his students.
"Students who have traveled with EWB see firsthand the different customs of various countries, such as standing when elders enter the room,” he says. “They then bring that cultural understanding back into their Kentucky classrooms. That cultural diversity is so important.”
For Aaron, his experience in Malawi have shaped his desires for the future. He now dreams of one day opening a non-profit engineering organization.
“These experiences have changed the type of engineering that I want to do. Aid in developing countries puts more emphasis on the connection between what people need and what we can provide,” he says. “That’s what’s really gratifying.”
EWB-UKY relies on donations to implement these transformations. As Stamatiadis emphasizes, “Funding is critical. Whatever people can give us, it goes a long way; for the cost of pennies a day, you can change the lives of a lot of people.” To support EWB-UKY, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.