EWBUCT: Who are we?
EWB began in 2005. After a slow start doing basic administrative groundwork, the organisation has grown enormously over the past years. In 2010 it has really taken off, now having almost 600 members and running multiple projects throughout the year.
EWB UCT was initiated as a response to the inaccessibility of engineering and design solutions in impoverished parts of Cape Town. The group began in order to allow students to offer pro-bono services in areas where the funds for professional expertise are not available. As few outlets exist for engineers to ‘give back’ or address social injustices directly, EWB UCT sees itself as a means by which students can share their privilege and skills.
The inspiration for EWB UCT, the first of its kind in South Africa, is similar organisations in other countries, such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, which have been running numerous successful engineering projects across the world for the past decade. While there is no official affiliation between the various organisations, there is collaboration and a similar structure and business model is shared. Both EWB USA and EWB UK are currently running projects in South African communities and have approached EWB UCT for collaboration.
The purpose of Engineers without Borders UCT is to create a platform for students from the Engineering and the Built Environment (EBE) Faculty (including architects, urban designers and city planners) whereby the skills acquired through study can be applied to real-world problems in underserviced communities. EWB UCT serves the dual purpose of making engineering and design a medium through which the pressing issues of poverty and climate change are tackled, while simultaneously instilling socially conscious behaviour into the work practice of students.
While EWB UCT originally began as a service organisation, students and faculty have become increasingly more interested in using engineering and design as tools for sustainable development. While service projects are still undertaken by students who cannot commit more than a few hours per semester to the organisation, long term projects that address socio-structural issues are also taken on and topics such as long term accountability, continued maintenance and management are addressed.
EWB’s strength lies in it being a networking body. The relationships between our vaious stakeholders form the backbone and sustainability of our organisation. We see ourselves as the link between communities, engineering students, engineering professionals and UCT academics. In the spirit of interconnectivity, we are interdiciplinary and span through the entire EBE faculty, connecting all departments and all years of study – from first year to doctoral postgraduate. Through this network EBE students will enrich their degrees and gain from the knowledge of others.
While EWB UCT is completely student run, partnerships with the University of Cape Town, the EBE faculty and academic staff are essential to the ongoing success of the organisation. Several projects have been done in conjunction with SHAWCO Health and the Department of Chemical Engineering. The Development Bank of Southern Africa has generously sponsored the projects run in 2010, while a new partnership with the Young Professionals Forum will focus on the hosting of educational and development events.
One of the fundamental principles of EWB UCT is community partnerships. This is expressed through the commitment to thorough contextual analysis before embarking upon design projects, as well as continued engagement with the communities wherein we work throughout the implementation process.
EWB UCT is fully committed to sending only well informed, socially aware, and competent students into the field. This means that additional training, translators, contextual analysis and literature reviews are necessary to get all the students ready for this experience and ‘on the same page’ with regards to the social, economic, and environmental issues they might, by virtue of the complexity of the city, have never been exposed to.
EWBUCT Committee 2013