If there is one thing I’ve come to truly appreciate this year (other than 8 hours of sleep and a low-maintenance husband), it’s the power of engineers to improve life in the developing world. Engineers like Sara Beck, founder of the Houston chapter of Engineers Without Borders, are volunteering their time and enormously practical talents to bring the basic services of power, clean water and sanitation systems—with education and training—to billions of people around the globe who are struggling to simply stay alive.
Started in 2002, by the visionary Dr. Bernard Amadei, Professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Colorado, Engineers Without Borders has grown exponentially from a handful of volunteers to today’s 12,000 members, organized in 250 chapters (180 of them on college campuses). Called the “Blueprint Brigade,” EWB-USA volunteers are working on 350 projects in over 45 developing countries – with each project initiated and overseen directly by the local community, assessed by the chapter in personal visits, and implemented, monitored and evaluated over five years.
Sara Beck got involved with EWB-USA after a 2-month volunteer trip to Uganda in 2003 gave this flight controller on the NASA Space Shuttle and International Space Station program a different perspective. Her work on sustaining life in space was thrilling, but it would never support more than 13 people at a time; meanwhile she had become acutely aware of the 1.1 billion people who experience daily life-threatening conditions that could be ameliorated using those same environmental engineering principles. So in 2005 Beck co-founded a chapter of EWB-USA in Houston and in two years, had 300 professionals volunteering in projects in India, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Uganda, and Kenya.
In her spare time, Beck completed a Masters in Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech and this July returned to the same village in Uganda to spend a month working on a water supply and treatment project. She’s in love with the people there, but also frustrated that she can’t do more to permanently protect the health of people with clean water projects and education. So she’s put her dreams of becoming an astronaut on the back burner and won a Science to Achieve Results Fellowship to attend the University of Colorado and develop a pilot water reuse system for resource-limited areas, then test it in refugee camps and developing communities.
Maybe clean water is not rocket science – but I’m so happy that a rocket scientist is bringing all her passion, intellect and brilliance to the issue!
My $100 today goes to support people like Sara Beck and all the Engineers Without Borders who make our world work…and work more equitably. (Click here to donate before December 31, and your contribution will be matched by the EWB-USA board!! )