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MIT student blogger Rachel F. '12

Guest Entry: Engineers Without Borders by Rachel F. '12

Environmental engineering major Tiffany'12 fills in on international development

Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while — I’ve been hosed with the deluge of tests, homework, and projects that inevitably follows CPW. To temporarily satiate your craving for reading about MIT while watching half of my face contemplatively sip coffee at you from my blog header, my tooling buddy Tiffany, a Course I junior with a terrifyingly robust sense of work ethic and a phenomenally operatic R&B singing voice, has graciously offered to temper my usual Course VI nerditude by writing about her involvement in international development @ MIT. Enjoy!

In the grind of the semester, it’s easy to forget that there exists an entire world outside of the college campus (hello Boston!). Yet, one of the most rewarding things about MIT is being able to apply the concepts you learn within the classroom to real-time projects that have a significant impact on communities around the world. This past year, I have been serving as project manager for the Engineers Without Borders-MIT Chapter. Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit organization that partners with communities in developing countries to improve their quality of life. One of our projects, for which I am team lead, is Showergy.

Showergy’s premise is this: Imagine not being able to take a shower after a long day’s work. Now picture that every day. Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world lack access to water and facilities where they can cleanse themselves. Even where there is water, many, especially women, avoid going to communal showers in fear of attack or harassment going there and coming back.

To help combat this fear, Showergy delivers all that is needed for the shower experience right to the user’s doorstep – literally. Our cost-effective and easily installable shower system units will be implemented on almost every single plot as part of a franchise business model in conjunction with latrines. This design and model will ensure that community members do not have to walk more than a stone’s throw away. Our system also involves an innovative drainage and water reuse that prevents further contamination of critical water sources. By providing the means to basic hygiene, Showergy helps reduce the probability for disease and ensures a safe, reliable place for women, children, and senior citizens to wash themselves.

Throughout the past few months, our team has designed a basic prototype of our individual shower system unit in MIT’s famous D-Lab. The “D” in D-Lab stands for “Development through Dialogue, Design, & Dissemination”; its goal is to assist students in improving the quality of life in low-income households through development of low-cost technologies. It is extremely common for students taking courses in D-Lab to travel over IAP or sometime during the year to implement the technologies that they’ve developed.

Anyways, you can actually step into the unit, look up at the showerhead, and take a shower! What does this mean for term life? It’s actually a lot of fun. We get to spray each other with water while prototyping our pump mechanism.

…and be obnoxiously loud when using hammers.

Currently, our project is entered into the IDEAS/Global Challenge competition, an annual contest sponsored by the Public Service Center that encourages students to develop or innovate a product –it can be anything!– that will assist developing communities in tackling some of the largest global problems, like disease, sanitation, and water shortage. The projects don’t need to be fancy or complicated – in fact, the best solutions to problems of these scale often are and need to be simple. There is an enormous variety of projects that are entered into the competition. The sheer amount of creativity and innovation going on here is through the roof! You can view all the teams here. Since the competition is ongoing, you can vote for five teams that you like the best if you register for an account (insert shameless plug for Showergy).

To reiterate, there are incredible resources at MIT if you are interested in international development. Other resources include the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepeneurship, the Sloan Global Entrepreneurship Center, and the MIT International Development Initiative. If you are worried that your choice of major might affect how you can pursue international development, rest assured that no matter what you major in, you can probably apply it in a creative and significant way.

Even as a junior, close to the end of my third year here, I am astounded by how easily ideas can happen here and actually become a reality, with some hard work, the right connection, and of course, a bit of luck. So now, I leave you with a question: What are the “big” problems that interest you and how do you envision tackling them?

Several of my friends have gotten to travel to places like Nicaragua and Cambodia while involved with D-Lab projects. Sounds pretty fun!

Feel free to email Tiffany at tifa(at) or get in touch with her team if you have questions!

4 responses to “Guest Entry: Engineers Without Borders”

  1. Indeed, international development (ID) problems do not depend on what major you are considering … in fact, having as diverse a group as possible is best because most of these issues are multi-faceted … so to all pre-frosh, do consider doing at least one ID project in your life at MIT, you will not regret it! smile

  2. Jesika Haria says:

    Hey Tiffany!

    I completely agree with you – involvement in clubs like EWB help you really put your MIT education in context of the world – and the REAL problems that face us outside of p-sets and labs. We must realize that the area of a circle is not always 4*pi. There are complex issues that people live through, struggle through, on a daily basis. The least we can do as basic human duty is give back some of what we get.

    Keep up the brilliant work!! smile

  3. Engineers Without Borders creates opportunities for disadvantaged rural communities to access clean water, generate an income from small farms, and have improved access to the services and infrastructure they need to improve their lives. EWB makes the students to harness the problem-solving approach and creative pragmatism of the MIT engineering sector to address the root causes of poverty in rural Africa and many other impoverished communities.

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