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Engineering local solutions in India

16 February 2018
Humanitarian engineering students work with developing communities
Suitable design methodology for earthquake-proofing homes and awareness of the impact caused by large-level irrigation were some of the insights our engineering students gained during their recent fieldwork trip to India.

In partnership with Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB), 29 students from various engineering disciplines ventured to Gujarat, India as a part of the Humanitarian Engineering major.

This global engineering fieldwork trip is a core component of the major requiring students to undertake work in either a developing country or indigenous community.

“Understanding the complexity of work in developing countries is one of the most important lessons a young engineer can take away from our program”, says Dr Jacqueline Thomas, who oversees the major within the School of Civil Engineering.

“India was selected for this reason: it’s a complex society made up of a large diversity of religions and castes that interplay with a democratic government. This means that engineers need to consider many different stakeholders with different perspectives when undertaking any project.”

The fieldwork trip allowed students to visit different villages within the western Indian state and collaborate with a local women’s non-government organisation (NGO).

One group travelled to Bakutra, where handcraft is a primary source of income, to learn about the latest techniques in construction to protect residences from the large earthquakes common to the region.

Another ventured to Navapura, home to large caster plant crops used for caster oil, and delved into the complexity of high levels of irrigation and the effects this has had on ground water levels across the region.

During this period, students also worked on numerous design projects identified by the communities. One such group worked on reducing smoke inhalation within their host family’s house by constructing and installing a small chimney to filter out smoke produced from the kitchen area when used for cooking.

Other projects focused on safe water supply, irrigation and small-scale industries.

Students met with both community members and the local women’s NGO towards the end of their trip to present their findings and solutions on better design and planning practices.

They are now in the process of providing a comprehensive report of their engineering ideas that the Gujarat communities can action.

“The response from the NGO to our students’ presentations were extremely positive. They are excited to develop and act on these designs and plans in the near future”, says Thomas.

“Students were hosted by a family and living a rural Indian life, giving them the unique experience of being able to immerse themselves in local customs, language and traditions. A few were even lucky enough to be invited to a local wedding!”

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