In July 2016, a team of five engineering students from Curtin University flew to Argentina on a work experience trip to help assist a poor local community located on the outskirts of La Plata.
The students worked alongside Engineers Without Borders Argentina (EWB), an organisation that creates social value by connecting, educating and empowering people through humanitarian engineering.
Many residents of Altos de San Lorenzo, La Plata do not have access to basic necessities with countless people living in deteriorated houses and slums due to flooding and poverty.
All for a Smile is a soup kitchen located within the neighbourhood, and is one of the amazing initiatives that helps provide more than 100 hungry children with donated food and clothes, three times a week.
Facing increasing demand and poor facilities, it was in no condition to continue to provide for these children. Community volunteers previously had to use an outdoor wooden stove to cook for the hundreds of children, which was often slow and at the mercy of weather.
The EWB project is helping to transform their existing setup into a new multifunctional centre. The construction of the new centre required Curtin students to work hands-on and learn quickly from professional engineers and local tradesmen with tasks such as demolitions, preliminary earthworks and constructing the reinforcement for the foundations.
Volunteer Liam Richer says that although attending a lecture on road construction in Spanish was a challenge, the actual hands on work was very satisfying.
“We had learnt about pile foundations and trench beams in class, but here we were actually building them. It gave us a deeper understanding of practical design”, he says.
Another EWB volunteer, Louis Clarke, found the experience extremely rewarding.
“The exposure to professional engineering practice and the application of theoretical knowledge was extremely beneficial to all the participants. Due to its success, a program is currently being developed to enable [future] engineering students to share this invaluable experience,” he says.
“EWB Argentina have plenty of projects planned and ready to go, but are limited by the number of active volunteers and funding. Here at Curtin, there are many students eager to make a difference and gain valuable exposure and professional practice,” Clarke says.
The two students established an ongoing program with EWB to provide lasting and practical change.
“Our core philosophy is that we are engineers, not psychologists, social workers, or doctors. We recognise that there are many problems that are out of our area of expertise, so instead we find problems that can be solved through engineering. Many people travel overseas with the best of intentions only to burden the remote community with a water system they cannot maintain, or a hospital they don’t have the experience to operate,” Richer says.
This program will provide 24 Curtin Engineering students the opportunity to participate in construction projects, dedicated to providing engineering solutions for impoverished and vulnerable communities throughout Argentina in July 2017.
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