Solving global problems with practical solutions 

By Karen Herland

Members of the Montreal chapters of Engineers Without Borders gathered on Nov. 7 to exchange ideas. Magnifying glass

Members of the Montreal chapters of Engineers Without Borders gathered on Nov. 7 to exchange ideas.

You don’t need a lot of resources or equipment to effect change in the developing world; that’s one of the main principles Engineers Without Borders (EWB) adopts in finding solutions to complicated problems.

And you don’t have to study engineering to get involved in their education and outreach projects. “Engineers see things in a similar way. Having people from different backgrounds lets us view things from different perspectives, leading to better results,” said student Jad Saleh, who is the Concordia chapter’s VP Communications.

The volunteer organization is involved in a number of campaigns and is developing innovative ways to promote their ideas. For instance, in their efforts to raise awareness about the importance of fair trade practices, they held a Reverse Trick or Treat on Oct. 31.

“Instead of taking candy, we went out and handed out fair trade chocolate,” said Saleh, who studies mechanical engineering. Volunteers from all three Montreal chapters (the other two are at McGill and the Polytéchnique) spent two hours at dusk in different parts of town going door-to-door to nearly 500 households educating them about the benefits of fair trade principles.

Fair trade is a major campaign for the Montreal EWB chapter. EWB Canada has established standards for university campuses who want to designate themselves fair trade zones. Transfair, responsible for the fair trade movement, is expected to accept the guidelines. So far, no Canadian university has made the effort and EWB Concordia would love to make their campus the first.

But in the meantime, there’s lots to be done. Students are visiting other schools to raise awareness about the global importance of clean water through their interactive presentation Water for the World. On Nov. 10 they visited Marianopolis, and Trafalagar students will find out more on Nov. 13.

“First we talk about water access and filtration in developing countries. At the end, groups build water filters using simple materials,” said Saleh. “The key is to find simple solutions, you don’t have to be an engineer.”

The five EWB chapters in Quebec have received funding from NSERC to promote their activities. Concordia’s chapter is inviting students interested in designing an awareness campaign to submit an idea for a progressive campaign, along with four samples of visual work that promotes Canadian involvement in international development by Nov. 20.

Each year, EWB raises the funds to send two students to work on development projects overseas. They need $6 500 to finance the four-month trip for one student. Fundraising is done through a variety of methods. For instance, on Nov. 14 and 15, EWB volunteers will be bagging groceries for tips at the Alexis Nihon IGA to help meet their goal.

“Last spring, we broke the previous record and raised $1 021 in two days,” said Saleh. He’s considering applying to take the trip himself some day, though that amount of time away from friends and the familiar seems daunting, even for someone who studies far from his family in Lebanon.

The group is always looking for new volunteers. Their next Annual General Meeting in on Nov. 18 in the evening. Find out more on their activities.


Concordia University